There is often a misconception that artistic and mathematical thinking are opposites. Math and art are more like fraternal twins—they might not look alike, but there is a definite connection between them. Join us as we talk about some ways to demonstrate the connection between math and art, for either your “artsy” student or your more “math-y” student who might need some creative thinking encouragement.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:05.008
Welcome to the Demme Learning show. Our mission here is to help families stay in the learning journey, wherever it takes them. This bonus episode was previously recorded as a webinar and was not created with the audio listener in mind. We hope you will find value in today’s episode. Hi, everyone. My name is Gretchen Roe and I’m so delighted to welcome you to this presentation today. We have done so much work and I have to tell you, the more we learn, the more we want to share. And I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to have my colleague Sue Wachter join me. Sue and I have been partners in crime here at Demme Learning for eight and a half years. And we learn from the families with whom we engage. So I’m going to let Sue introduce herself.
Sue Wachter: 00:00:55.193
Hi, my name is Sue Wachter, and I just noticed I should have straightened all my pictures in the back. But that’s how it goes. I should have done that before we started. But anyway, I–
Gretchen Roe: 00:01:09.248
But that’s a true artist, Sue, so. [laughter]
Sue Wachter: 00:01:13.320
Yeah. Yeah. Get them on the wall. Don’t worry about getting them straight. So anyway, I have been enjoying art since my son took an art class in college. So before then, I always thought about, “Someday, I’m going to do art,” but didn’t start till then. He came home from his art class, and he said, “Mom, mom, let’s do art together.” And so he showed me his project and it was just splashing paint and making messes, which was so much fun. And here my college-age student and I were having this great time doing art. And so that’s where it all started for me. It wasn’t like I drew things all my life. We had artists in the family. So that was a big– can be a problem because you have artists in the family, so surely you’re not an artist. So that’s a big mistake to think that way. So I started taking art classes because it was so exciting. Not only exciting to see what I could do, but realizing the social part of the art. Doing it with someone else, having fun doing art was such a joy. And so then I realized too right away that every time I come home from art class, I would invite my friends over and I would teach them because I realized that when I taught I integrated it better. So they got the benefit of me teaching them, but I also became a better artist because I taught. And I taught from the beginning, and I was very, very new to art before I started teaching at the local community college. I just sent in my resume. I’m good at making resumes. And they said, “Hey, we have some continuing ed classes coming up– would like to have you on the roster.” And it started from there. So I will tell you the most important part, whether you’re the teacher or the student, is that teach back idea. The idea of preparing to teach, whether it’s math or art, is so powerful. I just can’t express that enough.
Gretchen Roe: 00:03:38.695
One of the things that sets Demme apart from other mathematics curricula is the fact that that teach back is a critical, integral part of our mathematical process. How do you know your student understands? Because your student is going to explain their understanding to you. And that makes an enormous amount of difference. And I think one of the the things that’s important as we dig into this topic is we as homeschool parents make the misapprehension that if we have an artistic child maybe they are not mathematically oriented. I say they’re two sides of the same coin, Sue says they’re twins. And both of them are important. And I think a lot of what you’re going to learn today is how do you set expectations for that artsy kid who says, “I hate math,” and reframe it in here’s an opportunity for math because it’s going to make you a better artist? So I’m really excited before we get into this today to also let you know that Sue has a background of working with homeschoolers for, what is it now Sue, 35 years? Sue Wachter: 00:04:48.648
1988 is when I first had a store and began working with homeschool families, so a long time.
Gretchen Roe: 00:04:56.304
That’s pretty cool. So Sue you said that there’s a saying that once someone– that goes like this, if you ask a group of kindergarten students to raise their hand, they’re all artists. And second grade, you’ll have fewer who raise their hands. And the older we get the less we think of ourselves as an artist. So as parents who are trying to foster that math and art connection, how do we have that conversation with our kids?
Sue Wachter: 00:05:33.543
Well, part of it is it goes back to– this wasn’t the order that I was thinking of, but the first thing that came to my mind was perfectionism. And allowing how you view their art, how you honor their art, how you don’t let people critique their art, those type of things.
Gretchen Roe: 00:06:05.867
Unless they’re going to do it positively.
Sue Wachter: 00:06:08.465
Unless they’re going to do it positivity. But negative critiques, make sure you avoid that. Also, helping them not be harsh critiques of themselves, comparing themselves to others. Again, that so and so is the artist in the family, so they look at that and say okay, so my art needs to look like that. Not realizing that art is a process just like any other learning. So those are the things. And then the other thing, too, is it’s interesting when I’ve taught our camps and that type of thing, I have to really express to the parents that when they take these pieces of art home, treat them like art. They don’t belong on the refrigerator. They might go in the child’s room if the child really wants them in the room. But I really encourage you to have an area in your home that you put their art that’s out there with your décor. It’s out there treated like art. That’s why probably the number one thing I would have you do is whenever they sit down to work on a piece of art, make sure that paper or that– especially we’re going to be talking about visual painting and stuff the most not other art today. But same thing works. Make sure that paper that they’re working on or that canvas will fit in a standard map or frame. Because otherwise you’re not going to hang it correctly. Presentation is everything, it needs to be presented correctly. Or they will do a piece of art that is the wrong size to fit the standard frame or mat, and you’re not going to pay $100 to have that matted and framed. So, unfortunately, every tablet that you get– or tablets that you get comes with the wrong size paper. So I always cut everything down to size when I’m working with my grandkids because I want to assume that I’m going to be hanging it on the wall. Everything they do, I assume it’s going to become a piece of art. Doesn’t always know. But then you’re ready to go. You just pop it in the frame. You could even have a gallery area in your living area for the family art. And then if you have those same sizes, a piece of paper, you can switch them out. So I got a little digress, but that’s a hot item for me, but it’s all about treating the students’ art like art.
Gretchen Roe: 00:08:59.191
And I think that makes a difference. Now, you said something, Sue, in that explanation that I think is really important. And that is that an artist doesn’t arrive full-blown, ta-da. You have to learn and you have to cultivate that craft. And math is the same way. So can you, because I’ve heard you have this conversation with families so often, can you draw those parallels for parents who are sometimes frustrated with their artistic child who’s doodling all over the page instead of actually doing the math?
Sue Wachter: 00:09:32.466
Right. Well, if they’re only doodling, that’s a problem. But the doodling also is a quick break and threw me back to what you wanted me to talk about, but that just sprung bore me into something else. So when I’m teaching art classes, I’ve started doing– some students love it, some students don’t. I’ve started having them doing quick paints or quick sketches. And so you only have two or three minutes to get something done. And you don’t think, you just do it. And those are important because you learn so much. And you actually will end up with a nice little piece of art. It’s amazing. So anyway, having them doing a little quick sketch to start your math, isn’t a bad idea. It kind of gets them to relax and feel good about the moment. And so then when they’re done too, or if they need a break, just give them a little self– During our classes like last night, it was a project class. So those are pretty intense, an art class that I was teaching. And so we took quick breaks. So I also do it along with them because one of the things as a teacher I do, it’s important that you share your mistakes and your bravery and your things that don’t turn out too. I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t have to fake it because if you’re an artist, you are making mistakes all the time. That’s what you do and that’s your best learning tool. So here was my little– One of our quick sketches was a little bat. So here’s my little bat that I did in just a few minutes. And everybody did amazing little pictures. Now, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t remember what a bat looked like even though it was my idea to do a bat. So mine looked more like a butterfly, so luckily I used the right paint and I got rid of it after I saw everybody else’s. So again, that learning from each other and having fun, and taking risks in front of each other is an important element of the art. That’s why I love teaching watercolor because we do five or six paintings in a two-hour session typically so that literally everybody walks away with something frameable, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:12:09.518
And you know what? I think that also makes a difference for students because often parents will tell us kids are very resistant to begin math because they don’t want to do it wrong. There is that element of perfectionism that frankly we breed it into our kids because we might have demonstrated it in front of them. And actually, in the spring, we’re going to do a webinar talking about how do you step away from perfectionism in front of your children to make it less desirable so that they can fail. And I say that because it’s really important for you to understand that in mathematics, the learning does not happen with what you get right. The learning happens with what you get wrong and are willing to work through to correct. And Sue, I know that you draw this parallel for parents. I’ve heard you speak at conferences about this; helping kids reframe what they’re doing mathematically so that they see their efforts affirmatively. Just like you don’t start with a perfect design, you might not start with a perfect math problem either.
Sue Wachter: 00:13:28.973
So often, especially with a parent of an artsy student, they’ll say, “Okay, so the student’s struggling with word problems.” So you say, “Okay, so I’m going to read this word problem, and tell me what you see. Okay. So the word problem is Sally had three apples and she found five more. How many does she have?” Well, some of you will say, “Well, I just see–” How many did I say? Five. Five apples. I just see five apples. Oh, well, you start that, you might springboard or trigger those of us that are artists. It’s a sunny day and Sally has little pigtails that’d be cute. And you could just do her back so that you’d have to worry about all the face stuff. And then you can– There would be apple trees and I think it’d be cute too if you just had the grass coming up around– So you see what I mean? You have to be careful how you frame having them visualize the word problem. So that’s why I love the Matthew C blocks because if you have them build the word problems with the blocks and say, “How would you build this word problem with the blocks?” you will put them over to the left part of the brain where they’re going to still have their creative visual thing going on but they’re going to see the blocks rather than the scene. I mean, to literally tell you how this works, the spelling, you see, I decided one time to– And I’m not getting into spelling but this gives you an example of as an adult, how that can trigger, especially if you’re a creative thinker. I said, “I should do one of the Spelling You See lessons just to see what it’s like.” So I got the book out and I just happened to open it to the spelling lesson on an artist. Well, that was obviously going to be interesting. Well, this particular artist hid their name in all of their paintings. So here I’m supposed to be working on spelling, right? And I literally got up and I went and looked at some of my paintings. How could I possibly hide my– It’s like Sue was trying to do spelling. So just remember, especially if you’ve got a creative thinker, and it doesn’t have to be a drawer. They could just be– they could be good at storytelling, whatever, but their mind is very creative orientated. You have to be careful what you ask for. And so that restructuring of how you say things, you have to be careful not to trigger the creative moment where they just want to grab their [crosstalk].
Gretchen Roe: 00:16:29.543
Or the other thing you can do is let the creative moment happen and say, “Well, tell me. What is that? What do you envision?” “Well, I envisioned the little girl with pigtails,” etc., etc. “Perfect. We’re going to come back to that later. Let’s step back into the math.” Do you see how we’re framing the conversation for you all affirmatively so that you can speak to your child as they experience things without making it wrong, but you’re helping reguide them or reorient them to keep them on track? I know sometimes as a parent – and I have been that parent – my thought is, “You’re really doing this to just drive me nuts.” And that’s not really the case at all. Their brains are just oriented differently. And so we have to be able to make that happen for them.
Sue Wachter: 00:17:18.978
So this was another class. This was a very beginner adult class and we did the pumpkins and they had a short amount of time. I don’t remember. Two or three minutes. Both of those students– those are just adorable little pumpkins. And look at the scale. Look at how they let the watercolor dance. They did everything teacher told them to do. And they were just delightful little paintings. These were just little outtakes. Quick things. Both of those students would not take those home. They said they were not good enough. To me, as a teacher, that is heartbreaking. I could not throw those in the garbage. I mean, look at those. Look at the paint. They let it move. Oh, I just could go on and on how awesome their little paintings are. So that’s important too, even for your art student. And the reason I talk about that is because often art students are very critical of their work. Extremely critical of their work. I have had art students– I know that they have their little– they have their little journal with their little sketches and all that stuff. And I said, “Oh, can I see your work?” And they go, “Oh. Oh, it’s just– Oh, no. It’s not good enough. It’s not very good.” And they open it up and it’s way beyond what I could do. Way beyond. But they’re just nothing but critical because of that perfection thing. There’s some standard that they think that they have to reach to be good at it, and that’s just tragic. So if you have art students that are doing that, I’m not sure what the answer is but it has something to do with perfectionism. And chances are if they’re also struggling in math, it’s the perfectionism that’s causing the problem, not the math. And so if you see those two things together– and I have talked to parents often on the phone, and they’re talking about their students, and then I’ll suddenly say– I’m getting some clues that they could be artsy. I’ll say, “Is your student kind of artsy?” “Oh, yeah. Art all the time.” And then I’ll ask, “In their art, is there perfectionism going on there?” And I’m not saying this is always, but sometimes it is, and that’s something that you want to stay aware of, that that’s a totally different issue. And then the fun thing is I’ll say– so the mom, I’ll say, “So, how are you on art?” “Oh, well, I’m not an artist at all. And it’s like, “Have you considered having your student teach you art?” Again, the teach-back. Again, you can model to them how to learn when you think you’re not good enough. Because that not good enough thing is a destroyer of art and math. It just–
Gretchen Roe: 00:20:26.412
Are you getting the impression from us that we want to raise your consciousness as parents so that you can make different decisions with your students as far as math and art is concerned? One of the things I think that I have learned studying at Sue’s shoulder, if you will, over the years, is when a parent says, “Oh, my child is very artsy. They’re not very good at math.” We would like you to change that. Because what Sue says is, “Oh, they’re very artsy. Then they are going to be terrific at math as well.” And I think that that is a really important takeaway for us to learn as parents. I believed you could either do one or the other. And it wasn’t until Sue came into my life in 2014 that I realized that not only could you do both, but you can take the skills of one set of opportunities and parlay them into skills in the other set of opportunities. So, Sue, I know that you had talked about using math words in art context. So can you explain a little bit more in-depth about that?
Sue Wachter: 00:21:44.523
Right. And I would be careful with this. I wouldn’t overdo it. You don’t want to ruin the art by making it too mathy. When you’re teaching our concepts– and trust me, if you came out and said, “Okay, I’m going to teach you, and we’re going to do this where it’s more of a structured, it’s not as a creative, art lesson.” They are going to shut down on you so fast just like they do with the math. Guarantee you, when I teach kids, I give about ten minutes of instruction and say, “Look, I’m going to give you ten minutes of instruction. I’m going to want you to listen. And after that, you’re cut loose in the studio. You just go out and discover.” Because they can only handle, even in art, just so much instruction on what they do not yet know and then things that are very specific. So math is also very specific. And so when they’re learning something new, whether it is in art or math, you don’t recognize it as an art because they’re off doing it all the time on their own. But the same thing will happen. You want to limit the time and not go past the shutdown. Now, it’s a little harder to figure out how to make math be discovery. But why not work a little bit on that new concept and say, “Okay, think of [which math?] step is easy for you, and I’ll give you a sheet of that to do.” so that they had their time of intense instruction. You kept it brief before they shut down on you, and then you somehow turned them loose. But you wouldn’t think– you’d say, “Oh, no, they could take–” No, I guarantee you. I’ve taught kids enough. You can only give them a little bit of intense instruction. But the beauty is over time, you will see that instruction, that art instruction that’s very specific and very skill-driven, creep into their work. And it’s wonderful to see. And they do it on their own, and they do it in their discovery. They don’t do it, and then it all comes together. But also so circle back to what you said, I’m sorry. I just get so excited to get sidetracked. I circle back to what you said during that instruction, use the word parallel, use the word rectangle, use the word perpendicular, use those words, you can even perspective all that stuff. Use that in your brief instruction. Those are math things, it will implement into their art over time, not immediately. Don’t make them sit there and make them do for an hour or have them have a art project that they only work on in small bits so that and it is more instructed, but they’re only allowed ten minutes on it. Now, if they want to go into their discovery mode and continue with it, but this is a project. This is separate. That can make a difference as well. I hope I’m making sense out there. So there is art things that they will be resistant to. Trust me, I’ve seen it. I’ve tried to– at the beginning, I tried to teach art where they were taught like adults. This is how you do it. And make them hang in there with me for an hour. It does not work. They shut down, they melt down. They just trash it. Okay? You could have a student that doesn’t do that, but that’s been the norm that I have seen. So it’s the same as math. So how they learn– how you see them learning development art is the same way they’re going to develop in learning math. So it may be different than another child that learns a different way. One thing too, some of us, many of us who are artists hate redundant. We just like why. I mean, I know how to do it. Why do I have to do that whole math sheet? And they’re right. I mean, if they know how to do it, do they need to do 30 of them? I mean, really? Now, we could probably have a debate over that some of us. But the whole idea is to learn, and if they can learn in less, doing less or picking every other one or pick the ones they like the looks of or whatever.
Gretchen Roe: 00:26:24.830
But I want to circle back around to what you said at the very beginning that the way in which we make that happen is for them to teach you that they know what they’re doing.
Sue Wachter: 00:26:36.297
Correct. Correct. Because if they don’t know how to do it anyway, to do a whole page wrong isn’t going to help. It’s actually going to do more damage. So I’m glad you brought that up because that’s where people–
Gretchen Roe: 00:26:47.116
I know you made you make this because Sue is one of our upper-level support specialists. So you may call in and say, I need help with algebra one. And you may get the opportunity to talk to Sue. And one of the things that she says is particularly when you’re looking at upper-level mathematics, you want to make sure that you’re working through and you understand what you’re doing before you’re doing all of it. And that really applies to any level of math. So this is where you as the parent need to come alongside your student before you send them off. Who wants to do a page of math if yesterday I did a page of math and then you told me everything was wrong. I wouldn’t want to do that. And sometimes as parents you know, we get involved in the busyness of our day. And we forget that there is virtue in our being able to make sure they’re doing it properly from the beginning. So I know that you set some parameters around that for kids. As far as they’re being able to understand that they’re not going to get it right the first time. And I wonder if you could reimagine that conversation that you have perhaps with a student who is in more complex mathematics and is frustrated, particularly, the story you tell about algebra one that you just [crosstalk] about–
Sue Wachter: 00:28:11.210
I think you talked about the young man that called in.
Gretchen Roe: 00:28:15.030
Sue Wachter: 00:28:15.510
Yes. Okay. So this young man called in. And he said, “I’m having trouble.” We were on speakerphone. So just so you know, we’re very careful that we aren’t having private conversations with your kids. So they were on speakerphone. And it’s always fun to do speaker phone anyway because the kids often end up teaching the parent right in front of me. But anyway, this kid called in and he said, “Oh, this lesson is all masked up.” He goes, “It just isn’t making any sense to me.” And so I said, “So when did you watch the video?” He goes, “Just today.” I said, “You do know that you’re not supposed to know everything today?” He goes, “What?” I said, “No, this is where you’re learning. These practice pages are for practice. So you try one of the problems. If it isn’t making sense, go look at the answer key. See if that gives you any clues. Go look back at the video or just shut the book because you might not be going to get it today.” I said, “Do not waste that worksheet doing it all wrong.” I said, “It’s about learning. You’re in algebra one. You’re not supposed to know everything immediately just because the guy in the video said so.” And the mom got on the phone and she goes, “Wow.” She goes, “That made a difference.” She goes, “We didn’t know that.” He was beating himself up because he’d watched a 10-minute video and didn’t know how to do algebra. And I mean, that’s algebra, but it could be a lower level too. So again, watch that clock. Make sure you’re not saying, “Come on, we got to get this worksheet done.” We don’t have to get the worksheet done. We are learning, especially at the beginning, that make sure you don’t drag that student out for an hour. Don’t even drag them out sometimes more than 10 or 15 minutes. And we always say around here, is their age plus two or three. Is that what we say now? We used to say two. So if you have a eight-year-old, you’ve got about 10 minutes of full attention span when they’re learning something new. It’s not about finishing the page. And yeah–
Gretchen Roe: 00:30:41.318
Now, I do add a caveat to that. And I say, “If you have a child who’s in puberty, you need to subtract two to three minutes from their age because the nature of puberty means that they are distractible. But I think all of this, everything we have talked about is being careful to frame expectations accordingly. Don’t let your kids say they can’t. Say, “You just haven’t managed it yet.” I love the way Sue says this, is there’s no expectation that you have a full understanding the very first day. And sometimes the best thing to do is to close the book and walk away and wait for the next day or even an hour later you might have a greater understanding than you did at that very first viewing. It makes a lot of difference for kids. So we had so many parents who asked so many questions. And I want to make sure that since we’re at the bottom of the hour, we start heading toward these questions. I had a parent who said that– she said she’s looking for the best approach for a seven-year-old who’s very creative, but struggling with math. And if you have a placement conversation with a parent as a placement specialist at Denny, what are the kinds of questions you are asking that parent to determine where the struggle is?
Sue Wachter: 00:32:05.510
Well, my number one thing with the 7-year-old is going to be, do they have their facts fluent that they’ve studied? That’s the number one thing. We talk about tools, addition, subtraction. Those are your basic tools that you really need to have without counting because what happens is you might slide them along. You might give them a number line. You might give them a trick or teach them to count on their fingers or whatever, and they might be able to get through Alpha. They might be able to get through multi-digit addition and subtraction. Sometimes multiplication comes together, but what we find consistently is the wheels will fall off in long division. That’s when the wheels fall off. And the sad thing is you didn’t take the time to get those tools in first grade. So now you have to take them back, and it’s not a bad thing, and it does make a big difference, but it’s better to deal with it now. Don’t worry about, “Did we get through the book?” Worry about, “Did we get done with those basic tools– did we get those basic tools, mastered?” And that’s why Math-U-See is such a great program because we help them do that by using, again, those manipulative blocks so we immediately take them– once they know how to count, we take them away from counting single things to– what color are you going to put up?
Gretchen Roe: 00:33:45.568
Our favorite color, purple.
Sue Wachter: 00:33:47.733
Purple. Okay. That will help them so that then they can visualize again– especially [of a?] a creative child. Those blocks aren’t going to stay out here on the table. Those blocks are going to be in their head. And just like the finger counting may not always be out here, but they’re still going to be finger counting in their heads so that if they can see, “A 6 and a 4 makes a 10” in their head, they can quickly get to that answer without counting. And that’s why it’s so important to do the build, write, and say part of that. But a lot of curriculums do teach them to count. They just teach them to count. And then long division, that’s where you lose a lot of students.
Gretchen Roe: 00:34:32.404
That’s where all of a sudden the math game becomes hard, and we think that children have a math deficiency and what they don’t is– what they have instead is they’re trying to drive a car that has flat tires. So we want to put the air back in their tires. And the way in which we do that is by reinforcing those facts and helping them move along a continuum so that they have that knowledge ingrained in their head so that when you ask them a question, “Two plus four,” they say, “Six.” They don’t count to get there. Sue, I wonder if since we were integral in the development of AIM for Addition and Subtraction and AIM for Multiplication. There’s an art element, if you will, in AIM when we utilize the pencils to ask the kids to show us what’s in their head. And I wonder if you could talk about why that’s important because that’s how we get away from this part.
Sue Wachter: 00:35:30.338
Right. So those of you that have used Alpha and haven’t used it AIM you’ll say, “What is she talking about?” But we added the draw, write, and say. So what we do is they first learn to build, write, and say, and then we help them visualize it in their head by taking the colored pencils and drawing a blue line and a pink line, and then a brown line. So to make 3, 5 plus 3 equals 8, okay? So they have to see the blocks in their head, in that creative part of their brain that they store all their photo images of what they draw. We get the blocks in there. That’s what we need to do. And then, they translate that with the colored pencils so that we see that they can visualize it and actually see it and draw it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:36:31.859
So, Sue, I’m going to now ask you a question about an older student. because we had a mom who said she has a 15-year-old who’s struggling with math and is very inclined toward art. And if we had that conversation, as far as placement is concerned with that family, what are the questions you would be asking?
Sue Wachter: 00:36:53.346
Well, the number one thing for a 15-year-old if their facts are memorized. And sometimes they aren’t. And that’s where we’re at. So we can have an aim. We could have anybody from an 8-year-old to a 16-year-old is not unusual at all. However, the other piece is the fractions. That’s the number one thing in an older student because you don’t realize that fractions are integral to understand– we aren’t cutting pizza anymore. We’re actually using fractions to manipulate numbers and find solutions. And it’s not always going to be a fraction. So it’s not like when you’re learning fractions were just handed to you, and you say, “Do this fraction problem.” You have to know when to use the fraction to solve the equation. So a lot of times, in a lot of curriculums, they learn the formula. So the thing is the formulas are so simple. And I’ll say this to parents all the time and say, “Yep, that’s exactly what’s happening.” They’ll say, “Oh, remind me how to add fractions.” And the parent gives them the quick reminder. And they get the whole page done, and they forget it, okay? So not only do they not remember the formula, they don’t even know what the fractions are doing. I mean, they’re kids. They’re just getting the work done. That’s what the goal is, get it done. And–
Gretchen Roe: 00:38:19.586
You, as the parent, are their rememory, if you will.
Sue Wachter: 00:38:22.626
Yes. [laughter] And the parents will say, “Yeah, that’s what happens. They can do fractions.” So sometimes you have to go back and redo the fractions. And it’s not going to take a whole year. But again, with Math-U-See, we’re using visual fraction overlays so they can see what is happening with the fraction. So then they can understand how to use it. And they will also remember it. The one that I always think of for myself is area of a trapezoid. I don’t remember formulas worth– I can’t remember formulas. [laughter] But I just quickly do the visual of the blocks in my head. And I can solve it. And so that was really an aha moment for me because then it’s like, “Oh, that’s how this stuff works I’ve been selling.” I actually experienced myself. And then, in Algebra 1, they didn’t put me in Algebra 1 in those days. If you couldn’t pass pre-algebra, they’d put you in this other basic math and said, “You were hopeless.” And so I learned Algebra 1 here working at Demme Learning. And that’s where I really realized the whole– I applied the way I learned my art to my math. And it worked. It worked. So figuring out how your student learns their art, and applying it to how you expect them to learn their math, will make a big difference. And then I got to see doing slope and intercept, “Oh, my goodness, this is art.” I mean, this is perspective. This is all kinds of art right here. It isn’t just about numbers.
Gretchen Roe: 00:40:05.073
So as an aside, the fact that Sue gets excited about algebra, to me, is still amusing and funny. I’m still not excited about algebra, despite the fact that I’ve been here at Demme for eight and a half years. But the thing I think that’s important here, and the message I want you as parents to capture is, you can learn, no matter what age you are, to be enthusiastic about something. You just, like Sue said, need the right tools. So your visualization of the area of a trapezoid, I want to take that one step further now and answer a question that a parent asked and it was, “What sorts of activities can I do with my students to help them see how math is applied in beautiful and useful ways?” And so in your answer, remember the summer that you had the art journal where you made people go out and find angles and you made people go out and find Fibonacci sequences and things like that. Can you explain in a little bit of depth why that’s beneficial?
Sue Wachter: 00:41:19.403
Well, I think you’re talking about the John Muir Laws nature journal group.
Gretchen Roe: 00:41:24.300
Sue Wachter: 00:41:24.737
That is– and they have a full curriculum there. I would use the nature journal connection. That’s the one that I used. And we would have homework to do that you had to watch the video before you went out join the group. And so you’d watch the video and some of us didn’t always watch the video and so then someone had to teach us. So we just gave them a bonus, right? They had to teach it back to us. But there was so much math involved. I mean, there’s one where you can pretty much tell how tall a tree is by doing this mathematical take so many steps out and stop and measure and look without even using a measurement. I mean, it’s fascinating. And the Fibonaccis are everywhere. Gretchen and I have gone on Fibonacci walks when we were in California working together. And they’re fascinating to see those everywhere you go, especially in California, but Fibonaccis are everywhere. So look it up and start looking for them. But it goes back, just in the world around you, to look beyond the obvious. And just think for your math student, as you’re developing this ability to look beyond the obvious, that, just like discovery, will start coming into other parts of your life. The John Muir Laws has really set me off. I mean, I can’t even walk outside anymore without stopping and seeing what birds are tweeting. I mean, it’s crazy. Yes, you end up being the crazy lady. But just being more aware. We’re so busy. We’re hopping in the car, we’re running here and there, but taking those moments to see what’s really there. What color are the clouds really? Another one is what color is the pavement today? You go, “What, is she crazy? It’s gray.” Nope. It’s not always gray. Looking beyond. What color is a blackbird? Any time a blackbird jumps in front of me in the parking lot at the store, I stop and look what color he is. And he’s not just black.
Gretchen Roe: 00:43:50.657
But I think one of the things that is very intentional about what Sue is describing here is you can take those skills of observation back into the classroom and apply them not just in mathematics but in any opportunity that you have for academics because our goal here is to educate the whole child, correct? We want to raise children to be contributing members of adult society. And if my husband was saying that sentence, he would have the caveat that says who don’t live with us. And so the goal is to help our kids begin to observe the world in a way that helps them function and navigate and enjoy the world more thoroughly. Sue, so many of our parents said that they were trying to figure out ways to assess a student’s aptitude for art. And I know that you teach a lot of classes in the summertime to younger students. And the interesting thing I find fascinating about your classes is you don’t teach to an age. You teach to an idea. So can you talk a little bit about teaching to an idea?
Sue Wachter: 00:45:09.429
Right. So when I’m working with kids– I teach adult-level art. Now, yes, I might have to be a little more aware of attention span and cut them off and let them go into discovery earlier. But one thing, you have to give them good tools. I don’t bring the cheap stuff. Now, I’m not saying run out and buy a bunch of expensive stuff. But as they learn and grow to respect the tools, get them the good stuff. Get them the better stuff. Gretchen Roe: 00:45:40.663
So many of our parents said, “I have kids who just absolutely love art and they hate math.” And I think one of the things that we can do here for parents in the closing 10 minutes is– Sue, you’re good at helping parents reframe those conversations with their kids. And so I wonder if you could help parents understand how reframing the conversations would be to their advantage.
Sue Wachter: 00:46:13.203
So there are things– the one that I think of often and I’ve used this is, again, using the vocabulary. But I did this with a little homeschool group that I was working with. And we learned making ribbon banners. You could talk about middle and make it part of your art lesson– or not your art lesson, your math lesson. What I did was I said, “Now, when you go home, at the top of your math paper, you put this little banner and you put your name in it. That’s how you’re going to put your name.” And a little girl came back the next day and goes, “I did it, my math paper.” So anyway, but we talked about parallel lines and halfway and then halfway and make a triangle here. So as you see that ribbon lesson, start out with the straight one. Then you can get fancy with the curves and the perspective and all that. But try to use the right verbiage and say, “This is math. This is when you– this is what’s going to make it all worth it. It’s not fun learning math facts and all this stuff, but when you grow up, you’re going to be using math to be building and creating things because nobody is going to pay you to do a math worksheet. What are you going to do with math when you’re done? You’re going to go out there and create things and tell about things and describe things using math.” So try to make that connection in little ways and have it part of their math. But the ribbon banners are a fun way to do it and try to use– unfortunately, a lot of the ribbon banner show you how to do it, but you’ll be able to see it’s a rectangle, and then when you do the ribbon that has the curve, then you talk about it being an arc. This is an arc. So use those words to describe the lines.
Gretchen Roe: 00:48:21.529
I think Melissa has given us a great quote here. She says her favorite John Muir quote, one that she’s always loved is tug on anything at all and find it connected to everything in the universe, and I think that is really [crosstalk] horrific.
Sue Wachter: 00:48:34.964
I haven’t heard that one. That’s [inaudible]–
Gretchen Roe: 00:48:37.417
And that’s much what you were saying. Blackbirds aren’t really black. What does a blackbird sound like, those kinds of things? And in the last couple of minutes, Sue, I would like us to talk a little bit about not all academics are done with a pen and a piece of paper. And I know that you have had the opportunity to do some amazing learning experiences with your grandchildren, so can you talk about– particularly, if you have a child who really is resistant to I don’t want to sit here for four hours and do schoolwork, can you talk about how you can take school into the universe so that is a more profitable experience?
Sue Wachter: 00:49:22.503
So I always treasure hunt, and so they know that if they go with grandma, we’ve got to go look for treasure. And so we really got into it and then there were these dead jellyfish all over and so I know some people don’t like to pick them up, but we picked them up because we wanted to take them back to the campgrounds and wash them off so we could just see what they looked like. And so then at the end of the camping trip, so we’re doing all this stuff and we’re finding dead snakes and we’re looking close. I mean, that’s just the best. That’s just so much fun. So again, discovery, noticing things, noticing details, looking at those jellyfish, looking them up online, this is how they look live, and oh my goodness, it was so much fun. So I couldn’t leave the jellyfish at the camp in the bucket of water, so as we’re getting ready to go, I said, “Let’s go down to the beach and let the jellyfish, the dead jellyfish go.” And so then my grandson goes, “Well, what’s going to happen to them out there?” I said, “Well, probably, some of the other animals will eat them.” It’s I probably shouldn’t have said that, but I mean, it’s the truth. And so anyway, so we’re coming over– so here, we’re three other kids and my grandson. We’re coming over the ridge here and to go down to the beach and right in front of us, right in front of us, there’s this eagle chasing a seagull. We could see it right there and everybody stopped. I think because we’d spent so much time exploring, we didn’t want to miss it, and everybody just was speechless, and it was luckily, that didn’t catch it or kill it in front of us or anything, but it was just the epitome of that whole looking beyond the obvious, don’t miss stuff. I mean, we miss so much. But again, how does that fit in with math? It does because then when you begin to look beyond the obvious in the world, you can start to see beyond the obvious in the math because you’re used to looking.
Gretchen Roe: 00:51:47.704
I think that is probably the best phrase that you have said is when you look beyond the obvious in the world, you learn to look beyond the obvious in the math as wel, and that really is a true statement. I think as a parent of very art-oriented children. I always felt like math came in second place to them. And being able to reframe those conversations now, I am amazed at some of those art-oriented kids who now have jobs in very math-centric professions. And they have found that, yes, you do need math in the adult world, particularly if you’re in graphic design and typography and web design. And it’s amazing how those applications come back to bless us. So if you take nothing else away from our conversation today I want you to take away the fact that you as the parent are in the driver’s seat as far as creating a learning environment that is encouraging. And it should include both math and art. And there should never be an environment where one is exclusive of the other. So we’re at the top of the hour. It’s gone too fast because we had so many notes we didn’t even get to. So what are the closing comments you’d like for [crosstalk]?
Sue Wachter: 00:53:11.467
Well, first of all, we probably fire-hosed you. So the thing I tell my students in my art classes, “If you come away with one piece, one piece that you feel you can integrate or half of a piece we have been a success. We have been a success.” Just like they can’t get all that math all at once you can’t get all that we talked about all at once especially if it’s something new to you. So allow yourself that. Don’t be overwhelmed by that. Read the blog. There are some tips there. Pick one of them. And if you’re still not sure what to do, contact me. But be ready. You’ll have questions first because it isn’t a one size fits all. That’s what’s important.
Gretchen Roe: 00:54:03.022
So Sue, the blog you’re talking about it came out last Friday, and it’s called the Math and Art Connection?
Sue Wachter: 00:54:11.361
I think so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:54:11.854
Do I have that right?
Sue Wachter: 00:54:12.887
I believe so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:54:13.455
I think that’s the name of the blog. If you found merit in our conversation today and we touched on doodling, we have a webinar that we did in the spring on math doodling. And there’s a blog that accompanies that event as well. Don’t let this be the end of your conversation with your student. Go and find those resources at DemmeLearning.com/Blog. You can find all the webinars that we have produced this year. You can find a thriving blog environment to learn more and dig deeper. And thank you so much, Sue, for your time today. I would be remiss if I didn’t say in closing that there’s not just one kind of art. If you look behind, Sue, I think that there are four different kinds of art. And the scarf that hangs around her neck is some of her artwork as well. The example that I want to leave you with here is there’s more than one way to accomplish something. And if you have a student who is creative in their enterprises don’t assume that they’re not also math-oriented. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the most brilliant mathematicians, and he was also an incredible artist. Foster both of those skills in your students because I think you’ll be glad you did. Sue, any closing words?
Sue Wachter: 00:55:39.118
I just wanted to say this painting here is my granddaughter when she was two. So here’s another secret if you got little ones. And I could talk for another hour but that’s okay. Grab it away from them before they ruin it. That’s the secret. [laughter] So you watch their art. You say, “Oh, that looks great. Here. Here’s another piece of paper.” Yeah. That’s how you get the good stuff. Anyway, it’s been fun. And I literally could go on and on and on because between math and art, those are my two best things to talk about. This
Gretchen Roe: 00:56:15.262
This is Gretchen Roe for the Demme Learning Show. Thanks for joining us. You can access the show notes and watch a recording at DemmeLearning.com/Show or go on our YouTube channel. Be sure to rate, review, follow, or subscribe wherever you may be hearing this especially if you really enjoyed it.
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It’s common practice for most kids—and their parents even—to view themselves as either the ‘artsy type’ or the ‘numbers type.’ Once the two become separated, it’s difficult for students to see the overlap between art and math– Arts Academy in the Woods
Way to combine art and math:
The Nature Journal Connection
NJC, Episode 12: Investigation
A resource to address perfectionism:
The Creative Cure by Jacob Norby
Sue’s art blogs:
The Connection Between Math and Art
Integer Blocks = Success for the Artsy Math Student
3 Benefits of Math Doodling
Math Doodling Can Improve Your Student’s Mathematical Success [Webinar]
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