I.S. 259 kids celebrate math and learning through art

The connection between mathematics and art was illustrated, recently, by students in the Fractal Math Club of William McKinley Intermediate School, I.S. 259.

The sixth, seventh and eighth graders created original works of art using fractal math, a branch of mathematics utilizing infinitely complex patterns created by repeating a simple process over and over that is only about 30 years old, and that is changing the world around us.

Thirty-two pieces of the students’ artwork were the core of the first annual fractal art show which opened on Thursday, February 16 at Bay Ridge’s Gallery 364.

Bryan Stern, a math teacher at I.S. 259, created the club to help his students learn college level math. “In fall, 2010, I asked to do fractal math in class one day a week,” Stern said. The club was a motivational way for the children to learn, and grew to two times a week after school. “This is beautiful artwork; however, there is incredible and beautiful math behind all of this artwork — symmetry, fractions, exponents and scientific notation. It allows them to understand high level concepts that most adults have never studied or even think about.”

De’Avion Billingslea, a student at I.S 259, was the first to sell a piece of her fractal artwork at the gallery that night. She explained the complex process behind creating a piece in such a way, which involved some pretty intricate mathematical calculations. The aesthetics were easier. “I chose these colors -purple and orange- because of pumpkins and peacocks,” Billingslea said, noting, “Peacocks are beautiful animals and pumpkins because of Halloween.”

Her mom, Shelly James, expressed the difficulty De’Avion was having with math before the program and how it has helped her skills develop. “She goes in the morning and after school. I’m glad they have the program because math wasn’t her strong suit and now it is helping her.”

At the close of the night, Stern presented his students with certificates for their achievements and conveyed the significance of his students learning fractal math. “This is college level mathematics that your children are doing on a computer using software that is designed to allow them to work with this,” he told the parents.

“Every person in this room with a cell phone has a fractal in their pocket, every cell phone has a fractal antenna,” Stern went on. “Pixar animation, ‘Star Wars,’ movies from the last 15 to 20 years have this. Harvard University and MIT are using this kind of mathematics to study the heart beat. Wildlife biologists study global warming are also all using this mathematics.”

The exuberance that emanated from Stern lit up the room and exemplified how rewarding it is for him to teach these children. “These kids deserve it, this is really all about them, what we are celebrating here tonight is learning,” Stern concluded. “This is learning through art.”

The pieces were being sold as a donation to Gallery 364, which is located at 364 72nd Street, and which is open for special showings and by appointment.

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