An example of math & art as a universal language

I recently coordinated my Math Art Family Night at an Indianapolis school. The event was scheduled around the Newcomers Program which supports English language learners who have been in U.S. for under a year. The whole event was one sweetness after another with parents and kids working side by side. I heard that having the Family Night on this particular night smoothed the rough edges for families needing to attend to logistical issues realted to getting their kids set up for school next year. It also helped that my station hosts were from the Junior League of Indianapolis (JLI) in partnership with  Arts for Learning Indiana. Arts for Learning’s mission is to empower youth to reach their creative and intellectual potential through arts integration and this event was definitely empowering in so many ways.

I am currently in the second year of a grant funded by the Junior League of Indianapolis  to bring the family night to IPS schools. I design and prep the activities and the Junior League ladies each host a math/art making station to help folks get started with the math/art projects.  A lot of the kids seemed to have picked up a good amount of English already. We were told that we should only speak English during the event but I think even if we didn’t talk at all we would have all understood each other. To me it seems that both art and math function as universal languages.

[Caveat: Developing and using math language/terminology in context is really important to making gains in math learning. Check out my blog post Learning Math by Ear: The Role of Language in the Moving classroom]

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All that being said, one boy pointed to a rotation design and was very firm about the fact that it was art, not math!, Overall it was fairly easy to demonstrate how to get started with the math/art activities. There was a little bit lost in translation but it wasn’t a barriar in any sense of the word. I always love seeing what kids and their adults make of the materials. This particular event will stay in my heart for a long time.


Malke Rosenfeld is a percussive dance teaching artist, Heinemann author, editor, math explorer, and presenter were whose interests focus on the learning that happens at the intersection of math and the moving body. She delights in creating rich environments in which children and adults can explore, make, play, and talk math based on their own questions and inclinations.You can find out more about her work at malkerosenfeld.com,  on Twitter,  Instagram, or Facebook.

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