Why City Neighbors Charter School 2nd and 3rd Graders are Painting in their Math Class

When you think of a 2nd or 3rd grade math class, you may picture students learning about multiplication tables or the order of operations. If you step into a math class at City Neighbors Charter School, you will see all of that plus students painting, experimenting with color, and collaborating excitedly over their work. So what does painting have to do with math? We sat in on visiting teaching artist Whitney Frazier’s workshops in Ms. Doyle’s 3rd grade and Ms. Tawney’s 2nd grade math classes to find out how art collides with mathematics.

Our first stop was Ms. Doyle’s class whose students had been learning how to make and follow “recipes” that were step by step instructions on how to construct their own composition. The recipes detailed exactly what colors are used in the painting, how to mix those colors, and how to divid the picture using terms the students learned while learning about fractions. Ms. Frazier walked around the room helping students break down their pictures into a series of steps using phrases like “with a pencil, divide the paper diagonally into halves” or “divide into quarters”. Words like equal, congruent, and vertical were thrown around the room as students wrote their instructions for recreating their drawings.

Students worked together to share their materials and even shared their recipes for colors that they liked. In addition to creating their own colors, they were encouraged to name their colors. This produced opportunities for students to use fun descriptors as unique as the colors. Colors like “midnight meadow” or “ground green” had Ms. Doyle pointing out alliterations in students’ palette names.

When that class was over, Ms. Whitney jumped over to Ms. Tawney’s 2nd grade math class where students were learning to create their own color wheels. They learned about cause and effect through color theory where water was added to colors to change the intensity. Once students finished creating their color wheels, they could then use those colors to construct arrays that were a representations of multiplication concepts they were learning in class.

Through this process, Ms. Whitney and Ms. Tawney teach students how to problem solve and think in steps. Graph paper helped students draw arrays that ranged from football fields, restaurant floor plans, to college campuses and people.  They could describe their pictures by breaking arrays down into tangible groups and describing the shapes and patterns.

So that’s how math and paint came together at City Neighbors Public Charter with the help of teaching artist Whitney Frazier. Students were able to display a strong understanding of mathematical concepts through creative process. These projects also built nurturing classroom environment through peer collaboration, sharing of ideas, and celebrating individuality. From color wheels to fractions, students at City Neighbors Public Charter now know how to think outside the box in math class!

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