Musing on the #MathArtChallenge

Hey folk. If you’re here, you’ve probably seen the #MathArtChallenge(s) that I’ve been putting on Twitter and Instagram. I just wanted to share some musing I’ve had as this has progressed, and I would love to hear any that you have as well.

The most prominent is easily that this is bringing me so much joy. Like most of you, I expect, I have moments in my day when I am overcome with dread and grief at what the world is facing in this pandemic, and I’m trying to condition myself to not wallow in that too long (if I can avoid it). One of the best ways I’ve found is to just search through the hashtag #mathartchallenge and I find so much joy that I am temporarily relieved of my existential dread.

For that reason, I’m not too bummed if there are days when only 1 or 2 people post their thinking/creations. Many of you have said that just seeing the math art challenges is a bright point in your day (and perhaps more importantly to me, many of my students have said that). My favorite challenge from the past week was almost definitely the Brunnian links and very few of you seem to have taken that up, but who cares as long as the ideas get spread and maybe someone can engage, even if thats days, weeks, months or years later. One of my actual students engaged in that one and just sent me a private video of her solution and I gotta say, I nearly burst into tears I was so happy.

Another joyful thing about it is the friendships I’m building with enthusiastic participants. Due to Katherine Seaton’s excellent challenge I’ve been introduced to her and even if it’s just a message here or there, it’s one more person I’m connected to. There are probably a dozen more people out there now who I hadn’t been as connected to as I am now, and much as I feel confident that many of you feel existential dread right now, I trust that just as many of you also crave human connection.

Back to the challenges themselves, I’m just delighted in the variety that has come up through your brilliant suggestions, and even more so that when I post one I happen to think is too simple or not interesting enough, figuring “I’m going to be doing this for a while, so I can’t be too picky”, that you all make it absolutely wonderful. Truly. I am floored that I can throw just any old thing out there, and your brilliant creativity and artistry makes it shine.

As for the ideas themselves, I’ve been operating under a few parameters as to what I will actually share:

  • If I’m using something that is decidedly a specific person’s creation, I’ve tried to ask first and if they say yes, to of course, credit them. I don’t know a single human who can lay claim to the connection between golden spirals and icosahedrons, so I didn’t worry too much about crediting that. But I do know that I was first introduced to the overlapping circles because of my brother and he through numberphile so I tried to link and thereby credit that creation. There have been a couple of requests that I haven’t yet used because I’m trying to get permission from their creators.
  • I have a list through about day 50 right now (we’re on day 28 now, as soon as I get my cat off my lap and go make it), and I have a lot of other ideas that I’ve hesitated to put out there because I want them to be accessible to as many people as possible. I guess I’d love some feedback on that. I would love to use hyperbolic crochet (crediting Daina Taimina, naturally), but I know not many people are going to have crochet needles and yarn, nor the enthusiasm to learn a whole new skill in a day. But maybe it’s worth putting out there for the few who would and for those who don’t to just play with the idea? Or Penrose tiles – I’d love to show those off and spread the idea, but it’ll be harder for everyone to play. What do you all think? 
  • I’m mostly trying to spread ideas that you all can take and share in your classes. I certainly won’t lay claim to anything except my own creations – I don’t own these ideas and you shouldn’t feel it necessary to credit me when you share them unless you’re sharing a specific image of one of my creations.

I dunno. These are just some of my musings right now. I’ll probably write again later, but for any who are following along, I guess I’d be curious as to what you’re thinking. And of course, feel free to add suggestions to the list.

Author: Ms. P

Math Teacher in Minneapolis, MN.

3 thoughts on “Musing on the #MathArtChallenge”

  1. To me this has personally been a joy, both trying some and seeing people’s shares, but I think you’ve also built a fabulous resource that ranks up there with Clarissa Grandi’s organized collection. I’ve shared several with my local art teacher partner in crime and some are going into her at home lessons. So THANKS.


  2. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for this challenge. As you said, so glad I’ve had the chance to connect with others through this. It has been a glimmer of light in this darkness for me. I am assigning some of these challenges to my sophomore math team (as an optional enrichment assignment) and I think they are enjoying them just as much as I am. The beautiful ideas and responses they are submitting are always the highlight of my day.


  3. My husband and I are juggling remote teaching (him 4th grade me HS math) and our 3 and 5 year old daughters. So I don’t have tons of time but the first place I go in the morning (after feeding and dressing and feeding (again) the littles) is here. I found your blog through the #mathartchallenge on twitter and have been hooked. So thank you.

    I shared the #mathartchallenge with my mentor teacher and my geometry and algebra 2 teams. I have only done day 3 but I loved it. I then posted it for my geometry students last Thursday and got submissions from student that I have not heard from in a month. We are supposed to post 3-4 assignments a week and I want give them an art challenge and a puzzle (think area maze and they like) for at least 2 of them. This is too overwhelming to be assigning proof after proof.

    I do knit and crochet and have been noting in my journal the challenges I want to get to for our 3 days of spring break and this summer.

    Again thank you for a bright, fun, meditative place to land!


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