At Excel, we firmly believe in the value of STEAM education – that is, ensuring art has a seat at the same table as science, technology, engineering and math. Letting students flex their creative muscles is just as critical to students’ success as boosting traditional STEM skills and technical intuition. When my colleague Mr. Bulale showed me the unit plan for his sixth grade math unit on graphing positive and negative integers, I figured this could be a great place to inject a little artistic freedom.
I spent an afternoon creating a Chrome app (that would run full-screen on our students’ Chromebooks) that allowed students to interactively draw lines on a coordinate plane using ordered pairs. Leveraging some coordinate lists from another school, I created a few sample pieces and added some additional functionality – zoom levels, custom colors and mirroring across each axis.
We didn’t want students simply jumping on their laptops and throwing random numbers into the app, however. To scaffold them into the app and reinforce the skills they’d spent the past week practicing, we started with good old paper and pencil. Students sketched a design that they dreamt up, copied it with straight lines onto a coordinate plane, and then identified the ordered pairs needed to graph it. They then traded this algorithm (only the points – the shape was a mystery!) with another student and attempted to recreate the original vision.
After practicing these skills for thirty minutes or so, students were ready to try out the Coordinate Drawer app. Some tried their original shapes, some ventured out with a new idea, and others enjoyed the chaos of drawing and mirroring lines and evaluating the artistic merit of their abstract creations.
It was great to see how motivated students were by the artistic angle of this lesson. Students who might traditionally become frustrated trying to correctly place (10, -3) were well-motivated by the fact that it was now part of the beak on the Seahawks logo. Plotting two dozen lines might seem arduous, but when you’re tracing out your name, it’s a welcome challenge. To try the Coordinate Drawer app yourself, you can install it from the Chrome Web Store here. If you’d like to leverage the worksheets we used for the offline portion of the lesson, you can find the Word document here.