Friday, November 6, 2009

Teaching Maths to Artistic Children

Maths is about logic and the left brain, and art is about intuition and the right brain, and have little in common, with little to offer the other, right? Sort of, no. Maths is taught often by rote, with dry explanations and repeated exercises. For busy, big picture minds, it can be very boring when presented that way. Especially if they ask questions about the important stuff. Or are hyper logical! Albert Einstein nearly got removed from school for being retarded, when it was probably the people around him that were slow off the mark. There was little wrong with his (now preserved) mind, just the small view of the educators and his childhood peers. In relation to art, Einstein has been known to say generally "Imagination is more important then knowledge".
For artistically inclined children, their first loves lie generally in 4 areas. Art, music, drama and writing. There is a way to help each type of mind "get" maths.
For writers, those students that excel in language skills, it is very simple. Maths IS a language, a very pure and universal language. Any logical idea can be expressed with little room for error in the clearest of ways. You have an infinite amount of "letters", with fixed values. If you look at page of times tables or addition in logical order, you can see a plane of pure language like a blank page with all the keys to express logical ideas. The rules of mathematics are grammar in pure logic, theoretical and scientific knowledge. If you do a sum or formula, you are expressing a word or sentence, that expresses an idea. Algebra is simply extending this understanding that all mathematicians have.
Musical children like sound. Music is a very mathematical art form, for all of it's emotiveness. If you explain that each number is a quantity, like a sound. 1 might be compared to a high sound, like top C, and ten is a low sound, like concert A. Zero is no sound at all. It is the pauses that make the music, as much as the notes. Showing them the times tables list as a smorgasbord of aural possibility is a great way to gain their understanding. Vibrational rates of sound works well in differentiating quantities. Also for understanding how quantities "cancel out" or "multiply" one another. Sine waves are an excellent teaching aide, and so is the concept of time, both which relate to music and maths. Electronic music is a great tool as well, as it is full of formulas. Using actual sound to get the idea across will implant the idea emotionally in their mind. Also, echoes, resolution and sound space is a great way to teach geometry.
Artists relate to colour, shape and form. If you show the times tables again, only relating it to a complex spectrum of colour, to be used like a palate, they will be delighted at the prospect of maths. Shape and form are good for geometry. Light and colour are great for understanding vibrations and sine waves. For example. if you compare "cool" colours to those in negative numbers and "warm" colours to those in positive numbers, the child will picture it in a emotion evoking way. Mixing colours is an idea that might help them understand the rules of maths, as in some colours mix well, some clash (not a "bad" thing, just undesirable), and some cancel others out.
For children who are socially orientated, relate it to people, and what effect it has on them. Shape and form relate to fashion, the body, and how things look. Hair, make up, etc lends itself well to maths, as in what hair length/colour is what amount (and what is says about who) or whatever fashion of the day lends itself to whatever concept. Also, you have to be precise when mixing chemicals for fashion, or it can go horribly wrong, as any beauty school student can tell you! Maths is like a secret language that "little kids" (and often parents) don't get, so it cliques. If you compare numbers to people, like 1 is a person, 2 is a couple, 3 is best friends, 4 is a pair of couples, 9 is a "magic" or "powerful" group which is very balanced, etc. Groups (pairs, parties or gangs and individuals) make basic maths easy, and is transferred easily to algebra (the letters are "names" for groups, gangs or person in the popularity competition). Also, you can relate it well to the big picture of both the greater society and maths, areas they need to expand their understanding in. After all, Einstein had bad hair, but we remember him still.
Children who are interested in the dramatic arts, they are visual, social, aural and tactile. You can borrow ideas from all these areas. They are either highly observational, or need to extend their observational ability to realise their starry eyed dreams. They need to be informed that methodical observation is necessary to becoming highly observable as an actor or director or camera operator. This lends itself easily to maths, in the effects of light, cause and effect, angling, heights, distances, sounds, shapes, etc.
Here's an idea for physical or tactile children. If the child enjoys sport, relate the mathematics to sport. Scores, positioning, and angles all relate well. If the child is highly environmentally aware, relate it to their area of interest. Physically showing them what you mean (bouncing the ball, or better, getting them to, or physically counting the leaves and petals) really will implant the idea emotionally in their mind.
For big picture children which despair at detail and often are leaders, giving them the task of solving a large project is a great way to interest these self starters. If they can't see why the are doing it, they lose interest. Tell them they will be designing a windmill or something grown up, complex and futuristic sounding BEFORE you give them the skills (you could even get them to individually choose what problem they would like to solve, whether it's sports, art, social, visionary or whatever). Then, as you teach the skills used in maths, they will have a grand idea to relate it back to, keeping their emotional interest involved. This is good for all kinds of children, artistic, leader, social, or physical. The main thing is to get them to grasp the "big picture" of what maths is (a pure, accurate language) and maintain there interest by relating to their, often lifelong, personal emotive interests. Well, those are my musings on mathematical teaching.

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