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Specific Ways Art Can Be Used to Teach Math

You’ve probably heard people say, “I’m just not good at math.”

You might even say it about yourself.

But it may not be true. There’s a good chance that you just weren’t taught math in a way that made sense to you. 

Some students easily absorb the concepts and rote memorization that go along with learning math. In a STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering, Math) focused curriculum, this is how it’s effectively taught.

So why would anyone consider for a moment how art can be used to teach math instead?

Because Some Students Are Left behind

So arts integration education has addressed this by turning STEM into STEAM. The A, of course, being Arts.

Yes, STEM is important. To be valuable in a job market, those entering it must have a basic understanding of these subjects.

But the problem is, art and math have come to be viewed as two very separate subjects. It’s as if a person has to be labeled EITHER creative or analytical; that you cannot possibly be imaginative and practical at the same time.

This just isn’t true.

In fact, more than a handful of the core skills in art and math are closely related. Each requires spatial reasoning skills and the ability to recognize patterns. For example, both artists and mathematicians use geometry in their work. There must be an understanding of shapes, symmetry, proportion, and measurement.

So a Student Can Be Both An Artist and a Mathematician

But they must be able to see themselves as such. It’s common practice for most kids – and their parents even – to view themselves as either the “artsy type” or the “numbers type.”

Once the two become separated, it’s difficult for students to see the overlap between art and math. They might love their art class, but cringe each time they have to go to their math class. But through arts integration, they learn to strengthen their skills in each and expand their vision of who they truly are.

How Art Can Be Used to Teach Math

Art engages the right brain.

So for students who are right-brain dominant, it’s essential that that hemisphere be active if they are to learn math vocabulary and concepts.

Here are some examples:

Through Music

In its purest form, music is math. Most forms of music follow a beat, a rhythm, and a pulse. There is musical timing and sequences.

At the basest level, educators can use these to teach students prime numbers or multiplication tables. For example, students can sit in a circle and call out numbers – replacing every number that’s a multiple of three with a clap or snap. But they must keep with the pulse. As lessons get more demanding, the rules of the game become more challenging.

Another valuable part of music is singing and chanting. These are effective in helping students retain information. If there’s a favorite popular song the students like, the lyrics could be switched out and replaced in a creative way with geometry properties or algebra terms. 

Even just having calm classical music playing in the background during math lessons can help to activate the right brain.

Through Drawing/Painting/Sculpture

It’s well understood that right brain dominant students are visual learners. They are going to be much more open to learning concepts if there’s a clear contextual understanding.

In other words, why should they care about different angles or shapes? But if given the challenge of creating artwork that demonstrates these angles, shapes, parabolas, etc. in action, their right brain lights up.

Challenge accepted. 

Through Movement

Movement is also about practical application.

For example, trying to get students to understand boring concepts such as place and value in longer numbers can be a serious challenge. But having the students stand side by side to represent these can greatly help illustrate the concept.

Some educators have found success in asking students to use the geometric principles they’re learning concerning angles, mirroring and rotation, as the basis of a dance. The educator tapes an x and y axis to the floor, and then gives students the co-ordinates as a starting point for their dance. They are then asked to create three or four gestures, recreating specific angles or shapes, before rotating clockwise as a group to the corresponding co-ordinate the other side of the axis. This is a practical way to reinforce the learning and make it easier for the student to remember.

Plus, on a purely practical level, keeping students moving not only ensures better understanding of the math, but it ensures they won’t fall asleep!

Through Stories

The imaginative mind is drawn to stories. It could be the plot of a favorite book or film. Or it could be a story of one’s own creation.

Whatever the case, there are MANY opportunities here for educators to get creative in teaching math. For example, if a student is just crazy about a specific film, he or she could be encouraged to figure out how to pitch the film’s budget to a producer.

If a favored story or film has a science fiction angle, the student could figure out the math that might be required to reconstruct a droid or other mechanical being.

Another option would be to have the student write a story that effectively demonstrates an understanding of a concept. It could be a serious short story or a funny script – whatever the student prefers.

The educator needs only to find these opportunities. From there, the narrative context will give the work added purpose and relevance.

These Are Only a Few Examples

There are nearly endless ways in which art can be used to teach math. And it’s an excellent strategy. It significantly improves retention of key concepts and vocabulary.

Through arts integration, students learn how math can be creative, and how art can be analytical.

But, and perhaps more importantly, how they BOTH inspire imagination too.

Whether you’re a student who’s struggling to learn, or you’re a parent who thinks that perhaps your child isn’t learning in the most optimal way, an arts integration high school could be the solution. Contact us today to find out more about what we do. 


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