Mathematics and Sustainability

Student work from Mathematics and Sustainability class
Student work from Mathematics and Sustainability class

I just finished teaching a three week class on mathematics and sustainability. It was this amazing experience where I felt fully integrated: math, art, environmentalism—all these different parts of me were all there. Here are some samples of my students’ work.

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Art, Activism, and Mathematics

Spirit Guardians, block print with watercolor
Spirit Guardians, block print with watercolor

I’m preparing to teach a class on sustainability and mathematics this January–it’s one of my favorite topics because it’s so personally meaningful and the math is really interesting.

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The Beauty of Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard block print before adding color
Swiss Chard block print before adding color
Swiss Chard block print with color
Swiss Chard block print with color

It’s High Summer and there’s been a lot of time for both art and math (and less time for being online!) These are two versions of a recently completed Swiss Chard print, before and after adding watercolor. I’m finding lots of inspiration in our CSA this summer from Sweetland Farm.

Summer Solstice: Creativity, Integrity, and Gratitude


Apple Blossoms, hand colored block print
Apple Blossoms, hand colored block print

Happy Summer! I’m so pleased with how my apple blossom block print turned out–and excited to report that my next print is well on its way.

Since the Solstice marks the midway point through the year, it’s a great time to re-visit the goals I set for myself last winter. In this I get inspiration from Sara Avant Stover at The Way of the Happy Woman–she shares her process here in 5 Steps Toward Your Vision at the Summer Solstice. Rather than concrete goals, I focused on feelings I wanted to manifest over the year. For 2015 these are: Creativity, Integrity, and Gratitude. Here’s what that has looked like so far:

For Creativity, I found I had to define what that means for me. I discovered that to feel like I’m creative, I have to be regularly producing artwork (seems obvious, but harder than it sounds.) Setting myself on a schedule has helped immensely, because the act of creation is no longer tied to how I am feeling–it happens regardless.

Integrity means that my actions are in line with my values. When I chose this feeling, I was thinking of my work life, and how working often conflicts with other values I have (specifically family, self-care, and creativity.) My goal is to find meaningful work I can do while also honoring other parts of my life. In writing this blog and deliberately not choosing between art and math as a topic, I feel a huge shift in integrity, because I am no longer ignoring one piece of myself to promote another.

Gratitude is probably the most important of the three. For me it is a feeling I need to cultivate, not something I wait around for to show up. The best advice I have gotten about how to manifest more gratitude in my life has been to write a daily gratitude list. This simple action has yielded surprising results. Not only does it improve my attitude, it has shown me what I value in a day. Once I become aware of the little things that have a big impact on my happiness, I seek them out more readily, which boosts my well-being even more.

What are you manifesting this summer?

Gathering STEAM for Geometry

The Circumcenter and Incenter of a Scalene Triangle, a watercolor study

I get to teach my kids Geometry this summer, and yesterday we did circumcenter, incenter, centroid, and orthocenter constructions. I’ve never done those before, and I was captivated by the beauty of the constructions. I decided to turn a few into watercolors. It was a lot of fun. Here’s another:

Acute Triangle Centers watercolor study

In this one I also constructed the orthocenter and the centroid, athought it’s hard to see (they’re pretty close to each other.) Highlighting the construction marks makes it clear that the circumcenter is constructed from the perpendicular bisectors of the lines. It’s not as easy to see that the incenter is constructed from the angle bisectors–I’d love to find a way to show that. This is my favorite way to integrate art and math–using art and design to illustrate mathematical concepts. In many cases a picture is worth a thousand words.

A friend of mine sent me an article about STEAM–the education movement to integrate the arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classrooms. I think this is hugely important, although I think it has to go beyond just setting up more discovery learning opportunities. I also think teachers need to realize that engaging in art can be really scary for some kids (just as scary as math is for others!) I advise going slowly. And primary to the whole equation is the relationship between the teacher and her students. When that’s in a good place, you can accomplish just about anything!

Treat Your Art Like It’s a Business

American Folk Artist Sam McMillan's Hand Painted  Briefcase
American Folk Artist Sam McMillan’s Hand Painted Briefcase

I have recently been inspired by Rachael Cook at the Yogipreneur website. She runs a business helping yoga teachers turn their love of yoga into a sustainable business. I am not particularly business minded, so I signed up for her 21 day “Fired Up and Focused” challenge.

Rachael sends you an email a day with a link to a video she has made sharing some tip or another about how to run your business better. I particularly like her emphasis on the importance of folding all aspects of your life (including personal and family time) into the way you run your business. I am not a yoga teacher, but I definitely consider my art a heart-centered wellness business. And my math tutoring practice, for that matter. So I adapt what Rachael has to say to my world and I find it fits well.

One thing she said that has helped me a lot is that it is important to create systems to support the mundane, daily operations of your work. Creating systems helps you streamline your energy so you have more to put into the higher level visionary thinking that will help you grow and develop in the direction you want to go. So I decided to create a system for my block printing.

It’s important to me that I print regularly (not just when inspiration strikes) because I know that’s what Real Artists do, (and I’ve spent years being blocked, thinking I was not talented enough, when really I just didn’t have an art production system in place.) I set myself a goal of 12 prints a year and split up my printmaking process into 4 equal steps, each of which I can easily complete within a week.

Week One: Photograph Things that Inspire Me
Week Two: Crop, Sketch, and Transfer Image to Block
Week Three: Carve Block
Week Four: Print and Edit
Rinse and Repeat

Here’s the result of the first round:

apple blossoms draft

I’m pretty pleased with this print (it will look even better when I add color), and for the first time I don’t feel panicked that I don’t know what I will do next. It doesn’t matter. I have a system, and as long as I stick to it and don’t over think it, at the end of the year I will have twelve beautiful new block prints.

Music, Motion and Learning


We have family visiting from Germany so it’s the perfect time to brush up on my German. For me, German is the topic that I can study and study and try to memorize things but the words just fall right out of my head. How to make them sticky?

I remember never being able to remember the Dative prepositions until a friend (from a different school) sang them to me. In that instant I could finally remember them perfectly–and I remember them still (alas, not all my endings.)

Something about music lends an emotional quality to information and enables us to store it better in our brains. This works especially well with verbal information, and it’s the reason we sing nursery rhymes with small children.

For example, everything you need to know about baking in German, you will find in this video:

There’s also an element of play in nursery rhymes and songs that puts our brains in the right state to retain information. I can find many examples of how this works with music, but far fewer examples with math. The closest I can find are these (some of my favorite math music videos):


Although I can’t say I’ve learned much math from having watched them. It’s more like they make me appreciate the math I do know, and they certainly make me want to learn more.

When have you used music, movement or play to learn math? Please share your comments below–I’d love to hear from you.