Pedagogy Column: Math and Art

Lina Wu, Mathematics

I have found that teaching math concepts by using beautiful artwork inspires students to learn math. Math symbols, geometric shapes, and group patterns can be found in artwork. Some works of art use math equations, formulas, principles. Teaching math concepts by using artwork makes math lessons more memorable. Math concepts become easier for students to understand when they are viewed visually.

I introduced art in my pilot Calculus course in 2013 summer semester and 2013 fall semester. I guided students to learn Calculus concepts by using and identifying artworks that have correlations with Calculus. I also used artwork as a tool to assess students’ ability of their knowledge in identifying different applications of Calculus. For example, students were asked to use Calculus graphic knowledge in the Polar coordinate system to create art images by using Maple Software in the math lab.

This was a group project. I divided the students into six groups. Each group consists of five students and was responsible for generating two art images. In preparation for this group project, I provided the class with samples of single polar equation design. The students then used these samples as guidelines to create their own polar art design.


A single polar equation can create a design. One equation can create a loop-shaped design, heart-shaped design, rose-shaped design, or other design. This project was to teach students to use multiple polar equations to create their own unique polar designs. For this project, students were required to use their Calculus knowledge and to learn the use of Maple Software to generate their polar art design.


Maple Software was taught by Lab Technician, Zhi Wu in the math lab. In the lab, students worked in groups. Each group had to complete two art images. After each group completed their assignment, Zhi Wu and I reviewed their work. In order for students to create the images, they had to know multiple polar equations.

I received positive feedbacks from my students. They told me my teaching method of combining artwork and calculus was informative, enjoyable, and helped them to understand the material. It is gratifying when students tell me that they like math taught in this way.