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Math Complexities & History: Noble and Stahnke

Flight_Mathemetics copy
Noble_Stahnke2 Reviewers: Margaret Noble and David Stahnke

Positions: Digital Arts Instructor (Noble) and 12th Grade Mathematics Instructor (Stahnke)

District/School: San Diego School District/High Tech High

Number of Students in District/School: 400

Products: Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Digital Art, Expression and Silverlight, PCs, production and design software, still cameras, video cameras, and portable audio recorders.


Our objectives were to use technology and creativity to highlight the diversity and pervasive nature of mathematics in our world as understood through theory, history, culture, art and practical applications.

Reviewer’s Notes:

Students are frequently asked to crunch numbers without the benefit of presentations that connect mathematics to our world at large. If students were supported in investigating the wonder, history and often controversy connected with the world of math theory then they would find more connections, interest and investment in their regular mathematical studies. This project is designed with student choice and in-depth research in mind.


We feel strongly that this project particularly focuses on creativity and innovation as connected with the core subjects of art and mathematics. From initial brainstorming to collaborations and finally with multi-tiered production techniques, students developed analytical skills, pursued abstract thinking exercises and embraced critique and revision with a professional motivation to produce their best work.

Learning Curve:

We recommend designing this project as an interdisciplinary senior project that spans over several weeks with critiques and revisions. Final products should be exhibited in a class exhibition open to the public.

If students are losing inspiration or appear to not be invested, check to make sure they are feeling confidence in their abilities and that they understand what is being asked of them to produce successfully.

Students’ significant learning results:

  • A broad understanding of the power of media (media literacy).
  • A deeper understanding of the creative process and production techniques as they apply to a wide array of projects.
  • A holistic cultural and historical view of mathematics in the world and society.

How We Use It:

Students work on self-selected topics from a recommended list or pitch a new topic. They first research a math theory, narrative or phenomena. Some examples include:

  • The Mysteries of Pi
  • Is Math a Universal Language?
  • Art, Nature & Fibonacci
  • Entropy
  • The Mathematics of Sports

Once research is completed, students design a digital art project, which can include photography, sound, websites or video. They present their final projects in a public exhibition that teaches their peers and their community about the complexities and history of math.

What’s Ahead?

  • Give students choice on topics and projects but help direct them into productive decisions.
  • Assess technology capabilities to determine what types of digital art projects can be produced, for students dependent entirely on school resources it will be critical to assess how many digital cameras, videos cameras, computers and what types of software can be accessed by large groups of students fairly. 
  • Facilitate a culture of support and goodwill among students for the critique process.
  • It may be helpful to bring in some mentors such as PhD students in math, physics or engineering.

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I like the fact that the educators gave their students a choice. By being able to select an appropriate topic, learners were able to own their project. By assuming ownership of it, they automatically saw themselves as having greater control over their learning. This is very important in education, at every level but especially as students become older.

Students also have the opportunity to learn at their own pace using tools that they will encounter in the world of work. They gain skills in using the technology of today even as they better understand art and mathematics.

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