Beauty and Math

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by Chris Oakes
10th grade Geometry teacher

math_IMG_1595Why do we learn math? Why do we need to know how to measure slope? What are “systems” in geometry, and how do they relate to “measurement?” What is beauty? What is art? Can we measure such concepts? These are just a few of the questions we have been exploring in Unit One of Geometry this year, and while students have been exposed to the process of calculating concepts like “slope,” many aren’t sure how it applies to the real-world.

Our work with the IB curriculum is focused on communicating such real-world applications with students, and more importantly, encouraging student to communicate those ideas back. While exploring the concept of slope in this unit, student-led discussions have focused on everything from imaginary zip-lines around the city, to sledding, driving, and now … to a focus on artistry and craft while talking about “beauty” and math.

When asked, “What is beauty?” Clement students were quick to provide responses that ranged from physical characteristics all the way to personality traits of individuals. Further discussion revealed that physical characteristics could, in fact, be measured.

Students were introduced to the work of Esther Honig, a photojournalist who studied the different interpretations of beauty across cultures. Honig sent a photograph of herself to 20 countries around the world, and asked that they use photoshop to make her beautiful according to each countries’ standards. By using measurement, students were able to calculate the varying perceptions of beauty using the slope, lines, angles, and coordinate points on a plane to compare and contrast Honig’s photographs from each country.

So … Is it possible to measure beauty? Students are exploring the variety of results and the cultural implications of manipulating numbers to achieve what others perceive to be “beautiful” in a global society.

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