Let’s Not Forget the Arts in #STEM: #STEM -> #STEAM + Check Out This Kickstarter #mathisbeautiful

This post is about a former student of mine, who is graduating from college this spring with a BFA in Painting.

A couple years back, I was teaching Calculus — not the AP level Calc that I often talk about, but a far more relaxed course teaching an introduction. For most of the students in the class, math wasn’t their focus and most came into the course saying they generally “disliked” math. This was always sad to me — students who make it to Calculus in HS are clearly strong math students. Okay, so maybe they aren’t the “math wiz” you get in AP Calc BC. But why were so many of them feeling such dislike of math? So one of my goals in that course was just to get them to enjoy class. And also, unfortunately, a lot of time was spent fixing up bad algebra basics. I think that the holes in their fundamentals was a big source of the problem: lack of understanding of the basics -> memorizing math “rules” for a test -> no deep conceptual understanding or ability to fill in the “why” –> math being really darn confusing! Anyway, I’m getting off track…

Mick was a student in my Calculus class back in 2009 as a Senior. A truly bright student with a huge interest in art. He would doodle constantly – and I really mean constantly! His attention in Calculus went up and down. He knew he wanted to study Art in college. And a lot of the time, I think he felt that what we were doing in Calculus just wan’t that important for him to know. And that was true, honestly. I’ll also say that I was a new teacher, teaching 4 different preps without a co-teacher: AP Calc AB, Calculus, Algebra 1, and Introduction to Programming. I had a limited amount of time to create class activities and this was before I was on twitter and developed a network of amazing people and resources. But back to Mick — I remember so vividly, somewhere around January or February, looking at his doodles and seeing so much math in what he was creating. The symmetry and recursive nature of what he was creating truly struck me. We were talking about derivatives and Mick was totally losing interest at the time… I knew that was my fault, I needed to be making things more visual! So I came up with a derivative sketching project. Basically, I had the students pick a function, find its derivative, and then find about 20 tangent lines to that curve. Think curve stitching to get a sense of what I was going for in this exercise – by drawing all of these straight tangent lines, they were going to start to see the shape of their original function without ever drawing it. For all students, except Mick, this was something we did in excel. I knew I was going to have Mick do it by hand — and he did — precisely and perfectly. And it was awesome!! Mick went from failing 2 quizzes before the derivative sketch project to earning a 100% and 95% on the next two quizzes. For Mick, he needed to see that visual. That connection – between math and something so artistic – captured his interest and got his brain thinking.

As we got to the end of the year, heading into final exams, Mick was doing more and more of that symmetric, recursive-natured doodling. I gave Mick a different senior project than the rest of the class. I had him study fractals a bit and apply what he had learned in a drawing. The activity was pretty unstructured — I remember thinking to myself — I wish I had the time to sit with him for a month and study math in nature. That’s always been an interest of mine: math is *everywhere* and I’m fascinated by patterns, symmetry, the properties of what we find beautiful and visually attractive. But we didn’t have the time for anything elaborate… Mick completed the assignment… and turned in this truly awesome piece of artwork.

4 years later, and his work has evolved into this: Biomorphic Drawing Process

Mick’s goal is to make a series of giant biomorphic drawings. To make this dream a reality, he has launched a Kickstarter, with the hope to be able to pay several artists to help him since the drawing are extremely time intensive. Please check out his Kickstarter and consider helping him out. With a $25 pledge, you will receive a 12″ x 8″ print of one of his drawings! #mathisbeautiful

Mick – I’m super proud of you and hope to see your dream come alive soon!

Biomorphic Pointillist Drawing Series

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