Creative Class Project Leads to Publication for Math Education

James M. Loy, Miami University

Math is not a subject often associated with art and literature. But a group of Miami students from the College of Education, Health and Society (EHS) recently completed a unique multidisciplinary project that intersected with mathematics in unique and creative ways.

This semester, as part of a mathematics history and technology course, EHS students authored and helped illustrate original children’s picture books featuring the biographies of important mathematicians.

fibonacci award story, edt 265, Miami University, Spring 2018The project was designed to help teacher education majors become future instructors by focusing on “rich math tasks,” which are less about memorizing calculations and more about the creative processes that can connect various concepts to the lives of learners in relevant and meaningful ways. 

The class was also part of a semester-long community partnership with Lori Gloeckner and sixth graders at Talawanda Middle School, where the culminating event included the inaugural Fibonacci Awards. During the ceremony, Ms. Gloeckner and her colleagues voted on the best books in three categories.

Each of the award-winning projects will also be published in the Ohio Journal of School Mathematics.

“It’s important that there is an audience for the books beyond our classroom,” said Todd Edwards, course instructor and EHS professor of mathematics education. Talk is really cheap. I could tell students, ‘When you are a teacher, it would be a great idea for you to do an integrated content project.’ It is one thing to say that. It is another to actually model it for the preservice teachers.”

The award for best math content was presented to Megan Rhyal for her book called Euclid’s Dilemma. Rhyal’s book was designed to help elementary school students construct different geometrical figures and then understand the relationships between them.

Abby King won the best story award for her book, Building Up Geometry, which emphasized the existence of Euclid as a real historical figure whose work is still used heavily today.

Professor Todd Edwards leading a class discussionUncle Paul’s Adventure: Saving Abuela’s Tiles by Kassie Paul was given the award for best illustrations. Her book combined photos of real children with collage art to bring the work of Paul Erdős, an extremely prolific modern Hungarian mathematician, to life.

“The books had to incorporate mathematics in a meaningful way,” Edwards said. “So the mathematics had to be written in such a way that honors what the mathematician did, but also honors the way that sixth graders learn.”

To complete each book, students first conducted an initial review of all common core standards, before then deciding how to best write and illustrate the text based on the life and work of their chosen subject.

And in addition to being an authentic project-based learning experience, Edwards also wanted his approach to the overall class to highlight how unconventional ideas can become a reality.

“You can do something in a multidisciplinary way,” he said. “And if there’s something that you want to do, you can do it. Take a chance. Try new things.”