Symposium shows teachers how art and math intersect

Educators learn ways to engage kids in subjects such as geometry


At first, there's nothing more than carefully measured lines, with numbers written neatly on the page. The graph with precisely plotted dots looks like a math problem being solved until the lines, dots and calculations come together into a pencil sketch of something recognizable - an airplane, or several.

The finished products of aviation artist Keith Ferris are realistic-looking oil paintings of vintage and military aircraft.

Ferris has paintings on display at the National Air and Space Museum and the Pentagon. And all his paintings were created using geometry.

For some, the juxtaposition of art and math might be a novel pairing, but for Ferris, who studied both aeronautical engineering and art, it makes perfect sense.

"There's more to art than meets the eye," Ferris recently told a group of math and art teachers gathered at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in Linthicum. Besides, he added, "A little bit of math never hurt anyone."

Ferris, who also creates airplane camouflage, recently spoke at a symposium for math teachers in the region. Organizers of the symposium, in its 12th year, said the goal is to equip math teachers with tools to teach the subject to underachieving students. They also hope to help teachers impart to students the importance of math in their daily lives.

"Too much focus is on the academic, and not the real world," said H. Walter Townshend III, president and chief executive of the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce, a sponsor of the event.

Stanley Arnold, a geometry and calculus teacher at Hammond High School in Howard County, said he was personally fascinated by Ferris' presentation. He was not surprised that the New Jersey-based artist was speaking at a gathering of math teachers. He has used art as a teaching tool in his own geometry classes, he said.

"Art and math, there's a lot of overlap," Arnold said. "It might become more emphasized as we try to reach learners with multiple talents."

The symposium, which was conceived by the chamber, also was sponsored by the Anne Arundel and Howard school districts, the National Security Agency and several business groups. The community at large, and the business community especially, have a stake in the education of local students, Townshend said.

"For businesses, one of the most critical needs is students trained in mathematics," he said. "It's a skill set that's very important.

"What we can do with business, education and government in partnership is, we figure the teachers here will reach about 16,000 students through the course of the year. If we can impact teachers and give them additional tools, then we've had a great impact," he said.

One of the ways they seek to help teachers is by giving each one a CD with lessons in "real-world mathematics" that can be used in the classroom. It includes lessons on saving and investing, cost benefit analysis and home redecorating.

Improving math and science education in the county is an issue that has been openly discussed since the announcement that military base realignment and closures are expected to bring thousands of jobs to the region, many of them in math and science fields. Some members of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education have expressed interest in creating a math and science magnet school.

While the symposium for teachers benefits area employers, finding inventive ways to teach math benefits the students as well, said Joy Donlin, coordinator of secondary mathematics for Anne Arundel schools.

The sponsoring agencies, she said, "have a great interest in having a knowledgeable work force they will be able to employ," she said. "By improving teacher quality, you improve the opportunities students have as well."

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