Ninth grade geometry students add some artistic personality to their study of classical constructions.
A Creative Twist on Math
There’s always something exciting going on in Justin Heiges’s 9th grade geometry class. One student project involves a study of classical constructions, combining math skills with creativity and allowing students to approach the task in a variety of interesting ways.
The project has three steps: a write-up, a problem set, and an artistic portion, in which students produce an image using their knowledge of classical constructions. “I wanted to let them explore the topic in a more creative way,” explains Justin. “It’s a way of using classical geometry to model something in the real world—a way to apply what they’re learning in class to the physical environment. I could just go through the constructions with them and show them how to do it, but they really have to practice it themselves. Having them watch me isn’t as helpful as actually doing it.”
One way students approach the artistic portion is by using Geometer’s Sketchpad software, a program available at Sidwell Friends that enables users to draft a design without having to first map it out with pencil and paper. Other students take the old-fashioned route, sketching their image until it fits their requirements.
“We made our rough sketch first, did our final sketch in pencil, and then went over it in Sharpie,” says Aden Berger ’20. “Making the circles exact was very hard, and we had to try a bunch of times. I liked seeing our project through—it was challenging, but it was good to finish it.”
“Some of the shapes were difficult to create geometrically rather than artistically, but it forced us to improvise and think outside the box,” adds Arman Darbar ’20. “I liked that the project gave me a different way to think about math.”
Students’ final images, unveiled during the presentations they gave at the end of the project, show a variety of different approaches to classical constructions. One group was inspired by the shape of the Pentagon building, while another imitated a mandala, and still another used the image of Darth Vader’s mask to practice constructions.
Katie Littleton ’20, who worked on the Pentagon construction with Alex Sundberg ’20, took some time to think about what she wanted her project to look like. “We were thinking about doing a snowflake, but then we decided to look up symmetry in architecture and found a bird’s-eye view photo of the Pentagon building,” she says. “We thought it was interesting that the Pentagon was made up of five concentric pentagonal buildings, which is something you wouldn’t normally know unless you flew over it. A pentagon also just seemed like an interesting shape to try and construct, so we decided to go for it.”
Ultimately, Katie says, she found the project highly rewarding. “I really enjoyed the creative aspect of this project, and the individuality in each group’s construction. It was really fun getting to make our own decisions for our projects and letting our own personalities shine through in our work. We all worked really hard, and each group’s construction was complex and beautiful.”