Skip to main content
Search IntMath

Graffiti math

By Murray Bourne, 07 Jul 2006

In an article from New York State’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Math Lessons Get a Makeover, it says:

A researcher at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has uncovered mathematics embedded in the designs of various aspects of native and contemporary culture, from traditional beadwork and basket weaving to modern hairstyles and music. Using the discovery, he’s developed a series of interactive, Web-based teaching tools that are capturing the interest − and imagination − of students in math classes across the country.

The Flash-based interactives allow you to create your own designs based on the artifacts of African, African American, Youth Subculture, Native American and Latino cultures.

The mathematics that is used in the designs is:

  • fractal geometry,
  • transformational geometry,
  • Cartesian and polar coordinates,
  • geometry,
  • counting and
  • modular math.

A few things:

  1. This is hardly a new discovery. The tesellations and other geometric patterns used in art throughout history are well known.
  2. The researcher claims that students on the programme "displayed a statistically significant increase in their attitudes toward computers". Hmmm - that’s great, but weren’t we trying to get them interested in mathematics?
  3. I do agree with the researcher that "Making real-world connections − especially connections that tie in students’ heritage cultures − in math instruction has been recognized as increasingly important by educators"

But there is some interesting stuff in this. Those students with a visual learning style often miss out in the mathematics classroom.

Apart from all the ethnic designs in this work, the one that caught my eye was: Graffiti Grapher (link no longer available).

See the 2 Comments below.

2 Comments on “Graffiti math”

  1. Alan Cooper says:

    I agree with your point #1 and hope that the reference to "..has uncovered mathematics..." is just another example of the PR/communications hack bringing good work into disrepute by misstating its significance. (and I note that the shorter blurb on the RPI news frontpage does leave that out and emphasizes the real achievement which is the nice lessons and tools)

    With regard to your point #2, to "get them interested in mathematics" might be the goal that you and I have, but the RPI guy, Ron Eglash, is an associate professor of science and technology studies, and just improving attitudes toward computers contributes to his broader goal of improving "technological career aspirations for ethnic minority students". That said, I too would like to know whether use of the tools improves attitudes towards mathematics per se.


  2. Murray says:

    Hi Alan & thanks for your comment.

    I gather you too, as well as I, have suffered from "the PR/communications hack bringing good work into disrepute by misstating its significance".

Leave a comment

Comment Preview

HTML: You can use simple tags like <b>, <a href="...">, etc.

To enter math, you can can either:

  1. Use simple calculator-like input in the following format (surround your math in backticks, or qq on tablet or phone):
    `a^2 = sqrt(b^2 + c^2)`
    (See more on ASCIIMath syntax); or
  2. Use simple LaTeX in the following format. Surround your math with \( and \).
    \( \int g dx = \sqrt{\frac{a}{b}} \)
    (This is standard simple LaTeX.)

NOTE: You can mix both types of math entry in your comment.


Tips, tricks, lessons, and tutoring to help reduce test anxiety and move to the top of the class.