"Is there a beauty in math? OH GOD that's a funny one. Teachers kill you with these jokes."  This was what one PANYC student wrote on the first day of Math & Beauty. "The only thing that you see in math," he continued, "is numbers, numbers and maybe... nope you still see more numbers."

All of these numbers can end up making students like this young man feel "mixed up... struggl[ing] to find out how to solve a problem that has a lot of numbers. And that is why I  think," he wrote, "there is no beauty in math."

Another PANYC student began her response by saying that "Math is boring," but she didn't stop there. "When we make drawings and graphs to explain the problems," she explained, "I find beauty in it!"

On the other hand, she argued with herself, "when you do exercises, and you have to use numbers, I don't find any kind of beauty. (Well, maybe the guys who are doing the math!)"

She finished by writing, "I think that it is a good idea to have more beauty in math and not to make it so boring. We can draw and graph the problems like what we did in the perspective drawings at the beginning of the year. It was cool because we had to use our imaginations to draw the buildings from a perspective. We can use paints and big papers to do it! And some other materials too!"

[ Image from:
Colorcube ]

[ Image from: The Musical Brain ]

A third PANYC student — a 10th grader who is in the middle of her second year with Persheen for math — responded to the question, Is there beauty in math? with this:

Well... actually...YES!

I think that there beauty in math. Beauty can be many things like perspective drawing, doing geometry, and other beautiful things. I think that beauty is in things that you like to do. I think that there are many things that I like to do in math, and I think that those things are beautiful.

One project that I did in math last year that is beautiful and I liked to do was the "string project."  I liked making it because I was able to find out how to make many figures or shapes. I was able to learn more math in that project than ever before.

I think that there is beauty in math.

This semester Persheen Maxwell and Paul Allison are teaming up in a combined math and humanities class to explore the questions about math and beauty. This class, Math & Beauty, combines four disciplines in one — art, music, poetry, and mathematics — all working together to help students become better writers, computer users, readers, and mathematicians.

In the first half of this semester, we'll learn how to listen to music and each student will use math functions to create a song.  We'll also explore mathematical connections in poetry and art. Each strand will record a CD of their songs, produced using Overture 2, a computer program that allows users to create MIDI music files. Students will also design a home page for their personal web sites that will answer the question, Is there beauty in math? This home page will include original art work, an original song in the background, and lyrics or poems that students will write using mathematical structures.

In the second half of this semester, the focus will be on geometry and art as we explore our big question through the "string project." There are a lot more details, but we can't put them all here! Click on a topic to the left and see where we have gone in our journey into Math & Beauty.

Main texts:

Abbott, Edwin A. (1884, 1992). Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Beall, Scott (2000). Functional Melodies: Finding Mathematical Relationships in Music. Emeryville, CA: Key Curriculum Press.

Copland, Aaron (1939, 1999). What to Listen for in Music. New York: Mentor Books.

Plus many other poems, stories, and essays.

Created by Paul Allison, [email protected]. Last Updated 3/5/01