First Monday of the New Year. This is when my season of visiting classrooms begins. Classes start later in month. At the moment I’m planning, gathering supplies, designing projects, prepping materials. They call what I do Enrichment, or Arts-In-Ed, Arts-in-Education, I began doing this work in NYC in the late 1980’s, working in Chinatown and even further downtown, through a partnering of schools initiated by the Tribeca arts organization Franklin Furnace Archives.
I do hands-on bookmaking with students. I work with all ages. Pre-k through 2nd grade has been what has mostly captured my attention, as, not only do very few people offer hands-on projects to this age group, but, also because I believe that the impressions that I can make on these students are far-reaching.
I like collaborating with teachers to create projects. For years I mostly focussed on celebrating children’s writing and supporting literacy. Bookmaking and literacy are a natural fit. Over the years I have noticed that the teachers I work with do a truly great job of teaching students to read. While I am still happy to help motivate and honor students’ literacy achievements, I have become more convinced that bringing explicitly math-related projects into the classroom is actually a better use of my time. Everything that I do is infused with art, so any of my math-related projects naturally becomes a blend of art and math.
The fact that I’m am doing artful math – math with art supplies, hands-on math/art- has snuck up on me. There is nothing about this evolution of my thinking that has been intentional. While I knew that I had a soft spot for numerals, sequences, and constructions, these interests weren’t rising to the surface of what I was doing in schools. All the while, however, as my children went from being toddlers to teenagers to young adults, we journeyed together through math. Both of my children had good number sense, but they had nearly devastating reading and writing challenges. This means that they could understand the math, but couldn’t read the word problems, comprehend the directions, decipher the homework notes.
I always loved math class. Doing math homework was like a treat. I looked forward to helping my kids with their math homework. I loved unraveling why a concept was difficult, and then showing them a direct way to understanding. As I journeyed with them, I had a new-for-me question in my mind: I was trying to understand math in a more big picture way. I was trying to figure out where it was that I lost my way in math. Math class had, at a certain point, stopped making sense to me. I guess I never stopped wondering what had happened.
At a certain point I realized that the pattern recognition, sequencing, symmetry, relationship thinking, scaling, and problem solving that I was doing with in art, bookmaking, and teaching had a whole lot in common with math. No, more than that. It was the same thing.