With rulers and bamboo sticks at the ready, Jamie Bennedsen’s seventh-graders at Giaudrone Middle School cut, colored and taped plastic kites Friday morning – for math class.
The project is part of an experimental math program in Tacoma School District middle schools, done through a partnership with Puget Sound Educational Service District.
Arts Impact: Math Artistic Pathways is funded by a four-year, $1 million federal education grant. It uses an arts-based approach to teach concepts such as proportion, symmetry, geometry and two-dimensional modeling.
“We hope this will strengthen the learning of students who really struggle with the more abstract concepts in math,” said project director Sibyl Barnum, who oversees arts education for the Puget Sound ESD.
In 2008, 37.7 percent of Tacoma eighth graders met math standards on the WASL, compared to 50.8 percent statewide.
Giaudrone seventh-grader Ericka Curry already is a fan of the arts-math program.
“It’s better for us to learn this way than just through worksheets,” the 12-year-old said as she finished measuring plastic material for her kite’s tail. “It’s the first time I’ve done something like this in school.”
Giaudrone, First Creek and Jason Lee middle schools are participating as treatment sites; their sixth, seventh and eighth graders will receive arts-related math lessons this year.
Stuart, Hunt and Gray middle schools serve as a control group, teaching general math in a more conventional manner.
The grant, received in July 2008, will continue through June 2012. The 2008-2009 academic year was spent planning; this is the first year the arts-based approach reaches Tacoma middle-schoolers.
Over the next two years, Puget Sound ESD will collect data to measure the curriculum’s effectiveness for middle schoolers.
Arts Impact isn’t new to the district. It began in 1999 with Tacoma elementary schools, which received federal grants in 2002 and 2006. The latter grant runs until 2010 and provides $1.02 million for arts-infused instruction at Birney, Fawcett, Larchmont and Wainwright elementary schools. (Centennial and Spanaway elementary schools in Bethel also receive Arts Impact curricula under the grant.)
At the high school level, arts-based instruction is already a governing principle at Tacoma School of the Arts.
Giaudrone seventh-grader Stormie Follen, 13, said she didn’t expect to learn math through art.
The kite exercise reinforces concepts of angles, polygons, congruent triangles, and flipping and rotating shapes, Bennedsen said. To supplement the hands-on project, students did calculation assignments – such as how to determine 80 percent of 12 inches – and made flash cards of math terms.
Artist-mentor Meredith Essex assisted teachers in the classroom twice a week.
District secondary math facilitator Patrick Paris emphasized that the arts-based approach isn’t the sum total of all math instruction. The seventh graders at the three middle schools still receive traditional lessons after they finish their special arts units; the sixth and eighth graders are mostly getting traditional math instruction for now.
“We didn’t want to force the art where it didn’t belong,” Paris said. “The idea is to take advantage of where the art/math connection naturally exists.”
Joyce Chen: 253-597-8426