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ECU profs combine math, art

GREENVILLE, NC   (Mar. 23, 2000)   —   East Carolina University’s new Math Art Project has combined the study of math with art, and for a group of eastern North Carolina youngsters the results have been nearly picture perfect.
Three years of data on 1,705 kindergarten through high school students who participated in the project shows that most of the math/art students scored higher or on a par with students who took math the traditional way. The comparisons were made with scores on End-of-Grade or End-of-Course testing.
Dr. Cynthia Bickley-Green, an ECU School of Art professor and the project’s director, said the MAP approach focuses on developing spatial skills of the learners. She noted that the fundamental math and art thinking both employ measurement, the locating of points, the visualization of form and the representation of different points of view.
“The students learn more deeply when they represent the mathematical concept in different media such as markers, paper construction, clay, wood and fabric,” said Bickley-Green.
“The art media give form to the mathematical ideas and mathematical reasoning contributes to the underlying structure of art,” she said.
In addition to learning about relationships between math and art, the students also enjoy the experience of exhibiting their math and art assignments at school and in community art galleries. The next showing of art produced by the students is scheduled to open May 15 in the ECU Leo Jenkins Fine Arts Center and in the university’s Mendenhall Student Center.
The Math Art Project (MAP) began in January of 1996 when 30 Pitt County school teachers studied and then taught integrated math and art lessons to their classes. Topics covered included coordinate systems, polygons and solids, symmetry, ratio and proportion, computers, measurement, tessellation, perspective, fractals and topology.
The students learned these topics by working with hands-on art objects and creating their own art design. The lectures included information about mathematics and art from different cultures and the theory about mathematics development.
Overall, the classes scored at or above the county average on math tests developed by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Over the past three years, the project has involved about 70 teachers in Pitt, Beaufort, Martin, Edgecombe, Jones, Lenoir, Wake and Onslow Counties. The results have been nearly the same with most of the participating classes performing better than average on the state tests.
The ECU Math Art Project is a collaborative effort between the departments of Mathematics and Anthropology, the School of Education and the School of Art. Teacher training workshops have been held at ECU on weekends.
Funding is provided by ECU and the North Carolina Math Science Education Network with assistance from Weyerhaeuser Corporation, Binney and Smith (Crayola Company) and the participating public schools.