The Machine Awakes – Making Connections to Bring Learning to Life

I have always been a math/science person.   In school, my electives generally reflected that.   I used them to squeeze in more math and science classes wherever I could.   The arts were a gaping hole in my education.   I have never taken an art class.   I  play the piano poorly.    It’s not that I don’t appreciate the arts.   I just never felt like I had any particular talent in that area so I didn’t really pursue them.   I had a fixed mindset with regard to the arts long before I knew what a fixed mindset was.    I’m trying to expand my thinking, and have been looking for ways to connect math to the arts.

A few months ago, I approached our band director about the possibility of creating a cross-curricular event focusing on machines.      The music department was “all in”.   The art teacher and a science teacher also agreed to be part of the event.

We held the event last night.    Here is a quick snapshot of the night.


As visitors arrived, they were able to peruse an exhibit of student work relating to machines in the lobby.   Tables displayed instruments created by band students.

Simple machines created by art students were also on display.


The exhibit also displayed roller coasters created by science students.


As visitors perused the exhibit, they were serenaded by various small ensembles from the band.

Video Game Expo

After seeing the exhibits in the lobby, visitors proceeded to the computer labs where they played student-created video games.   These were games that I had my students create in February as part of joint Math-Social Studies project.   For the project, students could work individually or with a partner to create a video game about one of the ancient civilizations about which they had learned in Social Studies.   The game had to include at least three levels:  one level focusing on the civilization’s geography, one level focusing on the civilization’s religion, and one level focusing on the civilization’s history.


Motorized Toys

Visitors could then see demonstrations of student-created motorized toys.   These are toys that I have my students designing, building and testing as part of an engineering project.    This has been a way to introduce students to the engineering process, going from receipt of a Request for Proposal to a final written proposal and oral presentation before a panel of judges.     The project has allowed students to use math in very real ways as they have explored different gear ratios and calculated unit rates to determine if the toy was meeting the speed requirement specified in the RFP.



Finally, visitors attended the final band performance of the year.    Their focus piece for the evening was Machines Take Flight.


So would I do this again?   In a heartbeat.   The process was a great experience for students as they tied related ideas together in so many different ways.   It was also a great way to bring our community into our school.

From a strictly math perspective, I think this was incredibly valuable for my students.    They had to take an unframed problem and create a framework for solving it.   They had to apply the things they knew about ratios and rates in a real context.   Some of them had a hard time seeing how to do the ratios or the rates in such an open context.   Forcing them to do so, to figure out what to do and how to do it outside of a math problem was so good for them.   Giving girls the chance to build something real and figure out how to make it work was so powerful.   They went from hesitant to confident.   They will not be as hesitant the next time.




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