A Spotlight on More Than Math

The Asheville Art Museum’s More Than Math program integrates the visual arts into the 3rd through 8th grade mathematics curriculum using works of art from the Museum’s Collection. The program originated in 2001 and was developed by the Asheville Art Museum in partnership with math experts, including Dr. Grayson Wheatley, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Education at Florida State University; the School of Education of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Buncombe County School District. Mr. Randy Harter, now retired, was a math specialist with Buncombe County Schools, and he continues to teach in the program today.

“We’ve created these six different units of study, and it’s all grounded in works of art from the [Museum’s] Permanent Collection,” Harter says. More Than Math explores concepts shared by mathematics and the visual arts — such as pattern, symmetry, proportion, perspective, balance, and geometric form — and stresses the importance of an individual’s perspective. Teachers participating in More Than Math receive professional development workshops, lesson plans, poster sets, online interactive explorations and field trip opportunities to visit the Museum and view in person the works they have studied. 

Artists and mathematicians may think about things differently, but the problem-solving techniques are similar. “The problem that you give [students] has to be the right problem,” Harter says. “If you want kids to grow their mathematical thinking, you can’t give a calculus problem to third graders. That would certainly be challenging, but it would be completely out of reach. So, you’ve got to give them something that’s within their reach – something that has some connections to what they know. We say it this way – it has to be accessible, but it also has to be challenging. It’s not enough to be accessible. If it’s only accessible and it’s not challenging, we’re wasting everyone’s time. If it’s challenging, but it’s not accessible, we’re wasting everyone’s time.”

Similarly, the work of Josef Albers, Black Mountain College artist and educator, influences the program through more than just art. “It turned out that when we looked at the philosophy of teaching art by Joseph Albers, it really fit well with our particular philosophy of thinking about doing mathematics. It’s a creative venture,” Harter explained. “Albers would say, ‘I would give them a problem, and I would put them in a room, and I would say, okay – figure it out.’ And that’s what we think. Doing mathematics is not about remembering something that an expert told you yesterday and going home and practicing. It’s about approaching problematic tasks and having to reason your way through it using ideas that have come to make sense for you. That you own – that you don’t have to ask somebody, is this right?”

More Than Math continues to encourage teachers to think about their work differently, and Harter has very specific hopes for the outcomes of the program. “One way we talk about the approach difference is to say it’s not about teaching, it’s about learning. We’re in the learning business. It’s not what you know, it’s what they know.”

As the Museum prepares for its grand reopening in the spring of 2019, we are busy developing our education program schedules, which includes More Than Math. Read more about the Museum’s More Than Math program, and stay tuned for opportunities in 2019!

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