Using interactive art in the math classroom

Waltrip High School math teacher John Baird first began using sequential art comics while he taught literacy soon after leaving college. Students who otherwise resisted writing liked to imagine dialogue and a storyline to go with the pictures and speech

balloons and seemed eager to write.

It wasn’t long, however, before John was exploring other possible uses of comics in

John Baird

John Baird

other subject areas. When he realized it’s possibilities for math – and the gap in their use for that subject – he decided to write his master’s thesis on the application of the graphic art form.

Joan Countryman documented the importance of having students write to learn mathematics. Comics give students reason to write, a sequential structure that suits narrative writing, provides context and setting, engaging them and waking them up. Comics are multicultural and interdisciplinary, entwining math with writing and art.

A full understanding of the enterprise of mathematics requires an awareness of the narrative aspects intrinsic to it.” 
 Apostolos Doxiadis and Barry Mazur, 2012
Circles Disturbed: The Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative

All cultures have comics, so a child who immigrates from a remote and poor region of the world such as Somalia is familiar with comics and the types of narratives they are able to tell.

Comics are fun, so they appeal to the child’s innate desire to play as well as to their aesthetic sense. While Japanese anime and manga are currently popular styles, many others can be effective since tastes vary.

By using comics,  teachers have an easy tool to assess student attitudes before, during, and after instruction.

Differentiation is easy to do with comics, with the more creative creating their own artwork while others focus on story and sequence. Pre-drawn comics are the most useful in the classroom because drawing is not the point of the lesson: explaining the math concept is.


John Brand on Creating Comics for Math Interview during SXSWedu 2012

John’s website Create a Comic Project has templates for teachers and much more.