Mathematicians Made Visible portrait #3 is Moon Duchin, currently a mathematician and professor at Tufts University with areas of expertise in geometry, topology, and dynamical systems. She also works and lectures on science, technology, and society. In 2016 she founded the MGGG Redistricting Lab to research data science interventions for civil rights.
(A new printmaking project to make sure our visual representations of mathematicians more closely match the reality of the people doing mathematics).
One of my favorite paintings is Rafael’s The School of Athens.
I have a copy of it in my classroom to remind me and my students that by studying Algebra, they are part of a community of scholars. But lately that community is seeming a little . . . homogenous. As in, male, white, and dead.
I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to update this painting, make it look more like the world we actually live in? Fill that school with mathematicians with a broader diversity of racial and gender identities. If I were repainting it, who would I put in?
Mathematicians Made Visible is my attempt to figure that out, and to address the need for more diversity in the visual representation of mathematicians. I’ll be updating the page with sketches and prints. I’d love to know your thoughts and recommendations!
I created this 4″ by 4″ work for the Morill Mini silent auction benefiting the Justin Morrill Homestead in Strafford, VT. Whle not typical of my work, it feels important to me in this time to use any platform I can to address the current awakening to racial injustice that is happening.
What follows is my artist statement about the piece:
During this time of social and political unrest, I find myself shocked at how ignorant I have been of the lived reality of my black neighbors and friends, and at how easy it has been for me to be this ignorant. I’m shocked and ashamed at my misperceptions and profound ignorance of the history of our country, and it makes me wonder about the history of our region: what else am I willfully ignoring?
Most images of summer in Vermont evoke an idyllic country landscape. I wonder: what history are we not seeing when we look at these images? To address this theme, I created a print of a barn on a hillside casting a shadow of an American flag over the field. The flag is concealing a history of black Americans in Vermont, the people whose stories I have never heard. The flag is unraveling to reveal the parts of our human story that are refusing to remain hidden, ignored and overlooked.
Students all over my school are striking for climate action and I’m not sure what to do. I definitely support their actions, but I also think that learning Algebra is critical to understanding our climate crisis.
I created a lesson on changes in the rate of global petroleum consumption over time as a way to introduce them to the wonders of the online graphing software Desmos (and as a way to educate them on our consumption rates.)
I got all of the data online from the U.S. Energy Information Administration website here.
The green dots are the data. The green line is a linear regression (using a line to model the data.) The blue line is an exponential regression (using an exponential curve to model the data.) There are quite a few great questions this graph can generate about the data and the lines that potentially model our future behavior.
The lesson worksheet is here:
And here’s a link to the completed Desmos graph.
I’m still not sure whether I’ll run this lesson today (when many of my students may be striking) or next week when I’m guaranteed a full captive audience. The good/bad news is that the climate crisis is not going to be a quick fix, so I’ll have many future opportunities for this education.
One of my favorite Fall traditions is to work as Osborne the Printer at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. I’ve been attending the fair nearly 20 years and just recently found my calling up on Antique Hill working in the print shop. Even though it’s not typically something you’d print with a letterpress, I created a commemorative block print that will be available for print enthusiasts. I’ll be working there Saturday night, but the print shop is open 10-5 every day of the fair. See you there!
1. Learn some math yourself. You can make learning part of your family culture by showing that everyone in your family is learning something new. This doesn’t mean lecturing your kids on the virtues of lifelong learning—it means modeling it yourself. There are lots of free online resources (try edX, or Khan Academy) for learning (or re-learning) mathematics. In addition to becoming more knowledgeable, you will also grow in compassion for their struggles. As adults it’s easy to forget how vulnerable it is to be completely clueless (and possibly not perfect at something the first time around.) Putting ourselves in the place of the student goes a long way in helping us understand our child’s experience.
2. Connect with their math teacher. Most schools have open houses or parent information nights where parents can come and meet teachers. Show up to these events and it will make a difference to your child and their teacher. As a teacher, meeting a parent signals to me that my student has a supportive home environment, and it’s helpful to get a fuller picture of their lives outside of the classroom. Establishing a relationship also makes it easier to reach out if there are questions or concerns later in the year.
3. Make sure they have clean, quiet place to work with the supplies they need. Many of the students who struggle in my classes are highly distractable, and environmental cues are helpful for signaling that it’s time to focus and get to work. Most teachers provide a list of supplies at the beginning of the year. It’s a good bet that for math class they will need pencils, erasers, paper, and a ruler. Other possibilities include a scientific calculator, and graph paper. Be sure to check in every couple of months to see if they need refills.
4. Show them real math at work in everyday life. To stay motivated, your child will need come up with their own reasons why it’s important to study math (and these are likely to change over the years.) We work on this some in the classroom, but it’s extra effective if it also comes from home. Statistics in news articles, measurement in building and cooking, probability in decision-making are just a few of the different kinds of mathematics in the world around us. Practice looking and you’ll see more and more.
5. Offer encouragement to build perseverance. Everybody struggles in math at some point in their lives. Yet we seem to have this idea that, “Either I’m a math person or I’m not.” The reality is that there are a lot of different kinds of mathematics, and a lot of ways to be good at math. Struggling with math one day does not mean that you won’t find satisfaction or even joy in it later. Seeing mistakes as an opportunity for growth is a mindset that will help your child in math class and beyond.
My Spring Creativity Has Sparked!
After nearly a year of creative hiatus, I am excited to share the first images of my new project.
Since last August I have been focusing on improving my craft as a middle and high school Algebra teacher. I am inspired by my students to create a new series of prints weaving together math, art, and history.
The images above are illustrations of the Greek method for approximating the circumference of a circle by inscribing a series of polygons with ever increasing number of sides. The more sides a polygon has, the closer its perimeter is to the circumference of the circle. Ancient Greek mathematicians worked on calculating perimeters of polygons with more and more sides in an attempt to arrive at a definitive whole number ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter (or pi.)
The top image above is a circumscribed and an inscribed polygon (representing upper and lower bounds for calculating pi.) The lower image is an inscribed triangle and hexagon (a nod to Eudoxus’ “method of exhaustion.”)
These two mini prints are just me getting my feet wet–I’m also working on a larger print that I’ll share more about later . . .
I made this new print based on an embroidery design I’m sewing into felt. Maybe when my new fabric inks arrive I’ll print on fabric and embroider the prints onto a bag or something. I love having a handwork project going to work on by my wood stove. When my kids were smaller, I read a story about an old woman on a journey with a young child who advised the importance of handwork to quiet the mind so that the heart can open. I love thinking about that as I continue with my work.
Stay warm this Winter writing sweet somethings to your loved ones. Check out all my cards on my gallery page.
Pumpkins and . . .
. . . apples are now available as cards!
Here are my first attempts at chain stitching letters. I keep telling myself that it will look better from a distance. And I’m hoping it will get better the more I practice. The sharp corners are tough to negotiate–maybe I’ll try to make it larger, or try a different stitch or a smaller thread.