Math teacher uses art in instruction

Deborah Watters, a math teacher at Yucca Junior High School, shows examples of how she integrates math and art to teach her students mathematics.

By Gary Mitchell

A Yucca Junior High School teacher has found a way to liven up mathematics with art — and her students say they enjoy it.
Deborah Watters, who received her doctorate from Texas Tech University in 1998, describes her instructional method as “Smart Art,” and she has spoken at three national math conferences.
Most recently, she presented “Smart Art: Integrating Math with Art” at the 81st annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in San Antonio, Texas, on April 9-12.
“Smart Art is the title I gave it — it’s just an integration of math and art,” she said. “Not all students love to do algorithms. It gives an opportunity for all students to be engaged in mathematics.”
For example, Watters uses the artistic mathematical designs of the famous Dutch mathematician M.C. Escher in teaching students geometry.
“Those designs are called tessellations, rotating shapes which fit together to completely cover a surface without any gaps or overlapping,” she said. “We take them into the lab, and they generate some on the computer. They do a fabulous job. We also do picture proofs of the Pythagorean theorem (images incorporating right triangles) using Pythagorean triples. It’s a nice way to teach geometry. And it’s a good way to increase and use mathematical vocabulary because kids don’t use it on the Internet when they’re chatting.”
Watters said she also does “a lot with symmetry and rotation.”
“We do five-sided cutouts, pentagonal designs,” she said.
A former student, Tomi Castleberry, 14, said her math class with Watters was fun.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was beneficial to me. I’ve been able to use it from time to time. During the class, I got a chance to describe myself in a creative way in math and art.”
Another former student, Eddie Chaparro, 14, said it was better than most math classes.
“It was better than doing two-step equations,” he quipped. “I liked doing the Fibonacci checkerboard art. It was fun.”
Use of Fibonacci checkerboard art has been intriguing for most of her students, Watters said.
“It’s a famous mathematical sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 …) derived from the birthing patterns of rabbits,” she said. “It teaches number patterns. It’s something fun which utilizes the vocabulary and geometric ideas. I’ve always included art in my math, and when I was doing my doctorate, I began to incorporate literature into my math.
“I just try to vary my instruction,” she said. “I know the kids enjoy it, and I enjoy it more.”