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Education Trends 2018

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Maths meets art - connecting two divided worlds

Non-profit organisation, Dreamer Education teamed up with Youngblood Arts and Culture Development to showcase how music, dance and art can be used as a learning tool for teaching mathematics in schools. The month-long exhibition - Vanguard: A month where math meets art - was created with the aim to connect ideation, dialogue and collaboration between education and the arts.
The second Vanguard dialogue sessions, titled Maths Meet Art, featured a panel of speakers, that Kurt Minnaar, founder of Dreamer Education gathered, which included GrandMaster Ready D, DJ, John Gilmore, Founder of Leap Math and Science School, Neo Muyanga, musician and composer, and Jason Storey, owner of Unknown Union.

Nigel Richard
Nigel Richard, head of the Global Teaching Institute and facilitator for the evening’s talk, prompted us to think, pair and share. Richard asked us what the barriers to math meeting art was, to delve, not so much into practical barriers, but to look at the mental models surrounding it and to look at the ways our thinking has kept these two world's divided.

For the panel, Richard asked 1) How in their own work, be it professional or personal, are they meeting the world of math and art, 2) How they find ways to challenge these models and then to bring these two worlds together, and 3) Why it’s important – why haven’t they found the need to break these barriers and create more of a unified platform between the two divided worlds.

Gilmore kicked off the discussion by addressing where math’s does not meet. “For me, math doesn’t meet in the head, it meets in the heart.”

Cognitive education

Gilmore highlighted problems of inherited colonial ways of education and how education has become somewhat cognitive, when in fact it is not a cognitive experience, it’s an emotional one. “If you feel that you cannot do something, you’ll end up believing that you can’t and therein lies the problem, that it is an emotional journey where messaging starts to tell us that we cannot do.

The old model of IQ testing was verbal and non-verbal and non-verbal meant that you were mathematical, or if you scored higher non-verbally, you should do science or maths, or if you scored higher verbally, you should do history or English, and so we just accepted that conditioning.”

Gilmore continued to say that for him, education is an emotional journey and until we can work at emotional development, maths and art will always be separated. “When you bring in the intuitive sense of who you are in alignment with the rational sense of who you are, you’ll develop the wise mind."

From left to right: Ready D, Neo Muyanga, John Gilmore, and Jason Storey,

With reference to the Chokwe people of northern Angola and southern Congo (and the patterns on his socks), Storey shared how a simple drawing in sand became something that mathematicians studied and included in their syllabus, even on university level, how a simple finger sand drawing combined weaving and storytelling through grids. This practice, for Storey, is a good example of where math’s meets art, to take something so simple and unpack greater meaning through it.

Muyanga’s experience was in agreement to Gilmore's – an emotional one. Thinking musically from a young age, but also becoming proficient in maths, Muyanga, who is also a physics major, shared his experience of music, and how it’s this idea of moving waves through this medium, creating an impact on the eardrum and on the heart and mind, and what it meant to people making the music.

“I started to get in touch with luthiers, people who make pianos, to understand that music is the act of proportion. It became a very natural process for me to associate my mathematical mind with my musical mind. I then took to investigate tuning. The idea of tuning is based on this idea of subdividing certain frequencies and how they see to one another. We either call them consonants or we call them dissonant, both mathematically and in terms of English grammar.

"I realised very much then that mathematics is what we do, it’s not always what we say, so it’s not necessarily numbers. Music is not the score or in the notation, but it’s what happens when the notation is interpreted by a living human being or playing human being, or interpreting human being – mathematical relationships are everywhere, in fact, all of us are doing them, calculating them all the time. We just don’t necessarily articulate them as such.”

Math is everywhere, in everything

Being a rebel of sorts, Ready D shared with us how he was the one in school who did not make appearances in class, but kept up his grades nonetheless, that the way he was taught did not interest him and that the thing that grabbed his attention was music. DJing, or turning tables involves time signatures, taking beats back, taking them forward and making sure that the scratches and verses structure. “Combining maths and DJing requires muscle memory. Every day I calculate and try to remember when it comes to scratching.”

Another art form that Ready D referred to was that of motorsport and spinning. “We are driving these cars at angles, at extreme angles, we have to question the mathematical, scientific and physical aspects. If we don’t get the math right, we could end up killing ourselves and killing the people that are with us or injuring them as well. Also, in terms of how these cars are tuned, the tyre pressure, there’s maths. We have to read this and constantly preempt to calculate. There’s so much to consider, even the weather, airflow and fuel.”

Everything that we touch, see and feel are intertwined and interchangeable. When it comes to following your emotions, especially in a creative world, it's about taking a leap of faith and doing something outside of the norm. Minaar has done this by challenging the status quo. 

The panel reiterated the importance of individualism, but that doing projects together are vital too. That there has to be a space where you can co-create between age groups and bridge the gap in education. By integrating different cultures, age groups, and subjects, the curriculum can be rewritten – actually doing things that interest the children, giving them a space to be themselves and expand on their interests, be it maths, science, life science or art. 

"The digital era makes knowledge accessible. The transmission of knowledge and information is over. In five years time, it will be a complete waste of time. Content is easy to find. What do you do with the content? We should fall out of the rugged individualism of the west, that you have to stand on people to make progress, that you should measure yourself against others. In our country, children are put under time pressure and competition.

"We should do projects that are never individual, always collaborative, preparing children for the future, with problems to solve together. We build respect, agility, flexibility into our interactions. Those are the skills. Who cares about whether or not its science or maths anymore. Maths is art. Art is science. Science is whatever other label we want to put on there, because they're integrated. I really think the world we have to work towards is abandoning those sort of constructs," concluded Gilmore.