Fueled by a National Science Foundation grant awarded to Assistant Professor Gladys Krause, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools students attended a camp this past summer at William & Mary designed to bring mathematics learning to life through the creation of an art mural, now displayed at the School of Education.

Krause collaborated with Williamsburg-James City County ESL teacher Caroline Finchum and artist Maria Emilia ’11 to launch the project.

Over the last school year, Krause collaborated with Finchum in her ESL classroom. At the end of the school year, students in Finchum’s classroom continued to learn about mathematics in a summer camp designed as part of Krause’s research grant. During the summer camp, students applied what they had been learning in Finchum’s class to create the mural.

“During the school year, students were aware that at the end of the school year we were going to create a mural,” Krause said. “Then students shared ideas of what they wanted to see and make for the mural.”

Based on these ideas, Emilia developed some sketches and, in collaboration with Krause, Finchum and the students, the mural came to life.

Children and an adult paint a mural on a wall
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools students work on painting the new mural at the School of Education. (Courtesy photo)  

Although mathematical ideas were central to the learning experience of the students, teacher, artist and researcher, language also provided a focal point for the group’s work.

“Language was an important component of the community we established and a part of the learning process,” said Krause.

Everyone practiced and learned how to write and say numbers in Pashto and Spanish and described mathematics concepts in different languages. Students practiced scaling with shadows to transform their small drawings into a large mural, measured the space using area and perimeter, determined how much paint was needed and used the notion of mathematical proportion to mix the colors they wanted for each section.

They used mathematics in both the process of creating the mural and the final product, reflected by how the mural embeds elements of mathematics and the students’ languages into the design. Mathematical concepts and different linguistic expressions are interwoven throughout the mural so that, regardless of your linguistic background, “you can play with math if you sit there long enough, because each element is intentional,” said Emilia.

The mural in progress. (Courtesy photo)

Through the summer camp, they all built a strong community.

“It was awesome watching the students wonder, solve problems, think about situations, and come to a solution together,” said Finchum. “It stretched our creativity as educators. We needed to think more deeply about how we communicated to help the students work together and celebrate each others’ languages and cultures. There is such power in including students in real-world projects bigger than themselves and enabling them to work as a diverse team.”

“It was a teaching experience and a communal event,” said Emilia. “It was fulfilling for those who participated because it was so visual and concrete. The mural is loud and makes a big statement, and it gave students the opportunity for a visual voice with a simple stroke of a paintbrush. Participating in something so palpably large allowed our little camp community to feel connected to a bigger goal. I want more kids to have the opportunity the campers had this summer by incorporating art and math like this in schools.”

The work illuminated the value of having the time, space and funding to collaborate and demonstrate how mathematics is connected to what people do every day.

“I saw students rise to the task, be engaged and build skills to accomplish what was in front of them,” Finchum said. “When there are more opportunities for students to see the applications of mathematics, it heightens their engagement, which makes the learning experiences more impactful and valuable as they build skills to move into the real world.”

This experience brought together a community through art, integrating language and teaching mathematics, leaving a finished product for others to learn from and enjoy. The mural is located on the second floor of the School of Education, adjacent to the Learning Resource Center.

A mural on a wall
The completed mural. (Courtesy photo)