Rob Levit | April 2014

Students Practice Compassion through Mathematics

As an arts integration consultant and Executive Director of Creating Communities, I receive incredible opportunities to use the arts to affect real change and provide meaningful learning experiences. Recently, I had the pleasure of working with the 7th grade mathematics students and teachers Ms. Poynton, Ms. Moore and Mr. Mangold at Annapolis Middle School March 13-17 to create scale drawings and models of affordable apartments for senior citizens. The program was funded by a generous grant from The Target Corporation.

The purpose of the arts integration residency was to provide students real-life connections to the mathematics curriculum. The students accomplished this by viewing a picture of senior living in low-income housing and identifying simple ways that his situation could be improved. Some of the ideas included: new appliances, more accessible cabinets, less clutter, better storage, more light and better furniture. We used a process called See/Think/Wonder from Harvard University’s Project Zero to offer an effective framework for organizing thoughts on the subject. Students also viewed an infographic that clearly demonstrated that many senior citizens live at or below the poverty line in the United States.

Using the Design Process to Create Scale Drawings

First, students solved simple scale problems as a warm-up to make sure the essential concepts were understood. Next, they free-sketched what they thought an ideal affordable senior apartment would look like. Though the sketches were done on graph paper, the sky was the limit and brainstorming and getting as many ideas as possible on paper was the goal.

Then, they were given the dimensions of the actual apartment they were to design and given large sheets of graph paper to create a real architectural blueprint to be created with mathematical precision. This is when reality set in. The students had to take the best of their ideas and make sure they would fit the dimensions of the prescribed apartment. This is a real world skill because budget, space and logistical concerns often prevent some of our initial ideas from happening. It was a great exercise for the students to have to really decide on what they wanted and how they would create effective layouts with compromised or altered features.

Students were then divided into teams and had to choose what they thought was the best design of each team member – another real world skill. Students worked well together and easily created a consensus on the choice. Finally, students “built up” their architectural scale drawings by adding walls, colors and other details.

Along with their scale drawings and models, 7th graders, students used the Connect/Extend/Challenge framework from Harvard University’s Project Zero to reflect on their work.

Student and Teacher Reflections

The reflections from the students included statements like:

“My apartment blueprint would benefit a senior citizen because of the open space and wide hallways. It’s important for the youth to help the elders.”

“I messed up the measurement the first time but then I remembered the scale size. Doing a blueprint was a smart idea.”

“I will scale up to a bigger model.”

“It’s important for the youth to be an advocate of the elderly because a lot of the elderly cannot do much for themselves.”

Annapolis Middle School is an MYP (Middle Years Program) of the International Baccalaureate so the project emphasized theme like Principled, Caring and Risk-taker throughout each step. Ms. Poynton reflected,

“We had several students who are usually disinterested in the mathematics classroom and their creativity came to life during this project. Students were engaged in the blue print and construction process more so than ever seen because we do not get to see their creativity in mathematics class regularly”

and Mr. Mangold shared,

“From looking at the reflections, it was evident that our students understood the importance of making scale models and the accuracy needed. They also understood the importance of advocating for the elderly.”

Bringing in the arts to help design solutions for real-world problems like these creates learning opportunities that are tangible for students and connects  what they are learning to how it impacts their own lives.

Have you utilized teaching artist residencies?  What applications and connections did you and your students experience? 

About the Author

Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative "Life-Skills Through The Arts" programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.