It has become clear to me in the last few years that when young students enter a math classroom at the beginning of the year they rarely think that they are walking into an environment that will stretch their creativity. Instead, they think of formulas, lists of steps to follow, and right and wrong answers.
I try to change this mindset throughout the year. Accomplishing this goal, however, is not easy. I often seek advice on how to develop a plan to successfully tackle this challenge. But, in my experiences trying to improve my teaching, I've seen examples of and received advice for how to blend creativity into a class that puts the math in the back seat and other mediums for creativity like drawing, writing, or singing in the driver seat of the activity. In my opinion, that approach does not help students learn new concepts or build an interest for mathematics. Students must learn how creative they can be when working with mathematics.
Students come to see the beauty and power of mathematics when they are asked to explore various solutions, wrestle with thought provoking problems, consider the material's relation to the world around them, and play with mathematical models. But what are specific examples of activities that get students doing these very things?
One example recently came in a Theoretical Algebra 2/Trigonometry class. Students in that class made pieces of art by writing a variety of equations. Their directions were very concise: Draw a picture or create a design with at least 40 equations using the online graphing calculator, Desmos. All of the pictures included in this post are examples of what students submitted on Monday. Please click on these pictures so that you can see first hand the complexity of these truly unique designs.
As a teacher it's extremely powerful to see what outstanding work students produce when given the freedom and time to design, play, and create with mathematics.
* A big thanks to Chip Rollinson, a mathematics teacher at Buckingham Brown and Nichols School, for giving me the idea for this type of project.