I attended a conference last week where the keynote speaker gave excellent advice on why every student should be able to be proficient in algebra and physics. He started his presentation with displays and information on the history of mathematics and before the speaker ended his remarks, we heard that art could and should be the beginning of math, a subject that students at all ages should know because it involves innovation, creativity and an inquisitive mind.
The one subject that students have all those attributes in is art. He placed on each table a plastic bag with a few common items, including a stiff cardboard cutting shaped like a crayfish or crawfish, depending on the part of the country where one was raised. The bag also had a thin wire that was about 15 inches long, two clothespins, and a pencil. The assignment given to the participants was to balance the tail end of the crawfish with one finger.
Another was to balance the pencil on one finger by having the lead end pointed down. The clothespins and the wire were used to perform another function. While I was not an active participant, I certainly understood why students would be engaged. While I did not get the full concept of the art, it was relevant during the construction of bridges, etc. It even made sense to me and it was very engaging.
Parents, please remember that when you tell your student to stop drawing and get your schoolwork done, he or she is using a difference manipulative to accomplish that math goal without knowing it. The speaker also reminded us that failure is not always an indicator of being unsuccessful.
I would hope that we can inspire our students to become great math lovers by encouraging them to use their creative minds to discover all aspects of math, including algebra, geometry, etc. Perhaps when students are home during this upcoming holiday season, they can demonstrate their abilities by using their talent to draw objects such as bridges, cars, houses and take their imagination a step further by designing buildings and stadiums and other structures.
I was not known as an “outstanding” math/algebra student but after listening and watching the demonstrations of the keynote speaker, I am confident I could have been very successful in math. I challenge all students in grades K-12 to redefine math as the subject where one uses creativity, innovation and inspiration and not see it as a class that is difficult. If all else fails, please read the history and the development of math and math concepts. I don’t think you will regret it at all. Yes, we need more Albert Einsteins.
Margaret Hill is a member of the San Bernardino City Unified School District Board of Trustees.
Written by: Dr. Margaret Hill