International High School Students Discover Math Through Art

They look like lovely works of art. Painted wooden boards decorated with colorful strands of thread carefully stitched between pegs to create intricate geometric patterns.

But for the 75 ninth and tenth graders at the International High School who have created these pieces, they are more than that. To them they are models that have embedded in them mathematical skills and concepts that are waiting to be discovered.

Math teacher Persheen Maxwell and English/computer teacher Paul Allison have developed a math technology project using string design to teach their students a full range of mathematical concepts and skills. Concepts range from arithmetic skills, such as percentages, proportions, and ratio, all the way to the notion of calculus with algebra and geometry in between.

"This provides an opportunity for students to enter the project at whatever math and skill level they are at and exit at a higher level," said Mr. Maxwell. "For many of our students who are math phobic, this is a very non-threatening approach to the subject."

The semester-long project is part of an interdisciplinary course--"Projects and Adventures in New York City"--that not only combines art, math, and technology, but English, social studies, and science.

The multi-staged art-math project begins with the student designing an 8 1/2" x 11" sketch. After some mathematical factoring, the students enlarge the sketch into a 15" x 15" scale model. Then it is off to the computer lab where the model is converted into a computer image, which serves as the template for the actual artwork.

Once the boards are designed, with their various geometric shapes and defining angles, the real math lessons begin. "All the math concepts to be taught are things that are intrinsic in the boards," said Mr. Maxwell. "We will explore angles, triangles, length of segments, all aspects of geometry, and some algebra."

On June 5th the students' artwork will be on display at the college and the students will be on hand to describe their experiences. The students will not only describe the math-art project, but detailed explanations of mathematical concepts that they learned via the string art, as well as writing assignments that were composed in both English and their native language. All the work can be found on the student's individual web site ( that they created.

Two exhibits will be held -- at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. -- in the LaGuardia Community College's main building lobby at 13-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City.

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