written by Bill Reed
I know it is hard to believe that Math can be entertaining but believe it or not it really can be! Students and the general population rarely see how mathematics fits into many of the ways we entertain ourselves. Math can be found in so many entertaining places, literature, music and songs, movies, and especially art! We really need to make sure we share how this subject, which creates so many fears and phobias, can be pleasant, pleasing, and yes, entertaining!
A great example of this and one of my favorite lessons was having my students listen to and answer questions about the popular (current at the time) country music song; Chris Cagle’s, “What a Beautiful Day”. Have you ever listened to the words of this song, as it was being played? If not, you can listen to it here: Chris Cagle’s, “What a Beautiful Day” and the words can be found at: Lyrics for Chris Cagle’s, “What a Beautiful Day”. Are the words mathematically accurate or were they just made up to create a great song? See if you can answer these questions about this song, based on the lyrics. How long had the couple been dating before he asked her to marry him? How long had the couple been dating before the two were married? Did they get married because she was pregnant? Is that an accurate number of days for 50 years?
Another activity I did with my students was to connect Trigonometry with the music they listened to on their music players. If you are using a PC and have Microsoft’s Windows Media Player Visualizations, you can easily recreate this lesson with your students. I used a synthesizer to create some perfect musical tones. Those tones when played on the computer using Microsoft’s Windows Media Player with the Visualizations turned on, created sine waves. Changing the volume changed the amplitude of the visualization. Changing the octave changed the period of the visualization. Students heard the music and saw the related trig function. I then played the students music using the software and students could see the trig functions embedded into their music. The more popular the music the more closely the visualization was connected to the trig functions. Students were able to see how their music and the Trigonometry they were studying were connected.
Music is connected to math in so many ways. The musical scale is directly related to mathematics. If you want to see a fun explanation of this watch the Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land cartoon about the creation of Music. You can also find math lessons about beat, harmony, chords, and a variety of other music topics. Check out a few of the lesson here. There are other math lessons about Music and the Fibonacci Sequence, Graphing Pitch, Jazz, and Rhythm, and yes even Mozart. Those lesson can be found here. As you can see music in not just entertaining but also very mathematical.
It is not just music that is mathematically entertaining. It is also art. In an earlier blog I “The Beauty of the Season (and Mathematics)” from January, I shared how art can be beautiful, entertaining and still be mathematical. For instance, looking at the ratios that were used for the Mona Lisa painting. The use of shape and geometric designs that make up many types of art.
Have you ever asked your students to look at how mathematics comes through artwork in unique ways? The use of color is a good example. Most colors, as we know, come from mixing the primary colors in precise ratios to get the secondary colors. Having students use the color wheel to mix colors for painting is an excellent way to see how math can be entertaining and pleasing. It is the basis of the RGB pallet that makes up computer games, television pictures, and all digital screens we use to display things we enjoy. On many computer programs when you want to change colors for the font or background, you can use the RGB Slider to create the exact color you wish to use. The best painters and computer graphic artists know exactly how to blend Red, Blue, and Green to create the perfect hue to accent their paintings.
A perfect example of an artist who understands perfectly how to blend colors and use geometric shapes to create the most AWESOME murals is a former student of mine, Koda Witsken Silberstein. She was an excellent math student in my Pre-Calculus class and an even better artist! She is now nationally known for her amazing and stunning artwork in grandiose size. She paints murals all over the country. To see all the fabulous murals, she has done visit her website: Hue Murals. Below are just a few examples of how Koda uses color and geometric shape in her murals.
Buck Creek Trail Underpass, Cumberland IN
Bottleworks Parking Garage, Indpls, IN
Women of Wyoming, Casper WY
Rise and Roll Bakery, Fishers, IN
Asking students to look at artwork and study the mathematics involved is an excellent way to show students how entertaining math can be. Other interesting questions to ask students to consider; Why are some pieces of art considered masterpieces while others are not? How have artists like M.C. Escher used mathematics and geometric shapes to create some of the most interesting and unique pieces of art? There are entire exhibits at art museums dedicated to mathematics and art. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Smithsonian Museum. Asking student to find art that uses color and geometric shapes is a great way to involve students and help them see math can be entertaining and not just the abstract manipulation of numbers and symbols.
Television and Movies
Finally, one of the most entertaining ways math is used, is in television and the movies. I am sure all of you have watched television shows like Num3rs or watched movies like Hidden Figures. They are not just entertaining but also highlight the beauty and usefulness of math! Having students understand how powerful mathematical abilities can be is a great way for students to see how the math they are learning, can be applied! Shows like NCIS and other similar crime dramas show how forensic science, and the use of math, can be a positive that helps people. A discussion of how math has been used in ways like the space race, breaking codes in World War 2, and solving accounting and financial issues are just some of the ways that math has been applied in small and big screen entertainment. Having students share shows and movies they watched and asking them to explain how the math is used helps students realize that they are being entertained by math. It is one of those, aha moments, that sneaks up on them and surprises them. You can encourage students to watch math-based television shows or movies that involve or show math being used and discuss their reactions to what they saw.
Overall math can be beautiful, fun, useful and entertaining. It is important that students see that math is not the dull, boring, tedious task that many students think it is. Hopefully, with discussions, we can slowly change some of the negative connotations that seem to be associated with math. The more we point out how entertaining math can be the better off we are at moving opinions in the right direction.
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