Draw Plus Math: Enhancing Math Learning in a Fun Way

By: Freddie Levin

When I hear a young child say ‘I hate math’ or ‘math is hard,” I am always perplexed. Most children know more about math and use it more in their everyday lives than they realize.

Picture two children who are given a snack and asked to share it. There is a sandwich cut into four equal pieces. There is a plate with ten grapes. There are three cookies. Now, any two children I know would be highly interested in making sure that the snack was shared equally. It’s my belief that the math concept of equal distribution comes fairly early to children. Most little sharers would divide the sandwich pieces so that each got two fourths. They would count the cookies, giving each person one cookie and, without even thinking about it, break the third cookie in half for sharing. They might count all the grapes and make two neat piles of five each or ‘deal them out’ like cards: one for you, one for me, until they were all gone. Then they would count how many grapes each received to make sure they were equal. As they ate each grape, they might notice how many were left on the plate. Without thinking about it, they have employed the usefulness of math in a sensory way, in the real world. They used math to achieve a sense of justice in the equal distribution of their snack.

I had the good fortune to work as an art teacher for several years in a Chicago Public School that had an integrated curriculum based on the belief that children learn with all their senses. There were two aspects of this that interested me. The first was that art class was used to augment learning in core subjects like reading, math, science and social studies which was a very interesting way for me to refocus the art curriculum. The second was that art was no longer seen as just a separate sort of play time or prep time for teachers but was elevated to an important part of the learning day. The ideas for the Draw Plus series arose from this classroom experience. To develop these lessons, I had to determine the juncture where subjects such as math and science, and art meet.

Visual learning is the street corner where art and math intersect. Pictures convey information and ideas. We all know the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” but we could add to that. A picture is also worth many math concepts such as geometric shapes, patterns, relative size, relative quantity, position, sets and groups, symmetry, and data from graphs and glyphs. Creating lessons with these concepts can help students enhance their math learning in a fun way. It’s also a great way to reach students who are visual learners or who are struggling with traditional ways of learning.

A typical lesson from Draw Plus Math starts with a concept and then adds a related drawing lesson. The guidelines for what are appropriate math concept comes from the Principles and Standards of School Mathematics published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (http://standards.nctm.org). For example, Lesson Eighteen: “Information Please” deals with gathering and analyzing information from an image. First, three identical robots are presented. They are filled in with three colors but the colors are in different positions in each robot. The student is directed to use the visual information to answer questions about the robots such as, “point to the robot that has blue legs, red feet and a yellow head.” Only one robot will fit that description. Then there is a step by step guide to drawing a robot and the suggestion that this robot be colored in a different way than the robots on the previous page. A written or spoken description of the robots would not have the same impact nor would it encourage that most important art and learning skill of looking carefully.

Lesson Eleven: “Mirror, Mirror” presents a step by step exercise in drawing a symmetrical image of a butterfly. The concept of symmetry is conveyed instantly by the visual examples. Even without reading the text, the student can see that something can be symmetrical regardless of size. Pictured is a tiny snowflake, the Eiffel Tower, and a valentine heart—all split into two parts to show the equal halves. The sensory experience of drawing the butterfly cements the concept. The introduction of the word ‘symmetry’ adds to the student’s vocabulary of visual literacy. The student can draw any kind of butterfly and color it any way he or she wants as long as ‘one side is the mirror image of the other’. There is the freedom to be creative within the boundaries of the lesson. The next exercise is a lesson in drawing a person which is also symmetrical. The robots from Lesson Eighteen are symmetrical as well. Embedded in the idea of symmetry is the concept of fractions, balance and opposites, and also the idea of equations which is the foundation of algebra.

Draw Plus Math contains twenty drawing lessons like this, each touching on a basic math concept in a fun and light-hearted way. Numbers and counting, adding and subtracting, symmetry and patterns, geometric shapes, sorting, data analysis, fractions, relative size and position are just a few. “How Odd” and “Let’s Get Even” presents drawing lessons based on odd and even numbers. “Quilt-y as Charged” explores the geometry of quilt designs. “Share and Share Alike” presents fractions and the idea of equal distribution.

Looking ahead for the Draw Plus series is Draw Plus Science, Draw Plus More Math, and Draw Plus More Science. The focus of the Draw Plus Science books will be centered on life sciences. Concepts will include, among others, biodiversity, living organisms, plant growth, seasonal changes, adaptation, ecology, and much, much more. It’s a natural blend because careful observation is at the heart of both art and science.

My hope is that the Draw Plus Series will be a useful and fun addition to math and science learning, and math and science teaching.

Freddie Levin was born and raised in Chicago. Her earliest memory is lying on the floor in her grandmother’s sunny apartment drawing with a Prussian blue Crayola crayon. While growing up, Freddie attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago where she studied drawing, painting and puppetry. She earned her BFA and MFA at the University of Illinois and worked as an art teacher in public schools for many years.