I’m willing to bet that most have heard the assertion, if not the research, about the arts and math. A couple of times a year, I hear the question from a parent and it is always difficult to answer. The difficulty lies in whom the child is we are speaking about and how my own biases get infused into the conversation. Each conversation I have is characterized by the particular talents and/or struggles the child is facing making it difficult to provide a standard response. Also, having been a music teacher in my pre-principal life, it is difficult to approach my response in an unbiased way. While, admittedly, a standard response is not appropriate when having a discussion about an individual and my biases are a strength on this subject (if I do say so myself), there are common items that appear in each conversation that support the connection between the arts and mathematical success.
The most important supporting factor to the arts/math connection is the confidence students gain through mastery and performance. Lest we forget in an educational environment addicted to testing and quantification, the way a child feels about themselves and the belief that they can accomplish great things is a powerful factor for success. Our society is still mistakenly convinced that girls, for example, are not as good at math than boys are. A girl that has been informed of this is destined to live it. Given the opportunity to succeed in the arts publicly through performance may be the boost of confidence needed to overcome her apparent societal destiny. That said, boys too can gain valuable confidence. I personally attribute my success to the arts. I found the confidence required to be a leader in my field.
Other common items that support the connection of the arts and math relate to the opportunity for practical use. As a student, I was the loudest voice in the “why do we need this math, anyway” choir. The arts provided the answer. Music with time signatures and note values alone provides the musician with opportunity to practice mathematical thinking. Visual arts incorporates spatial reasoning, geometry and measurement important to good composition. Theater, especially in the “behind the scenes” work, requires scaling, ratios, physics and timing.
The article “Arts and Smarts” by Karin Evans (2009) discusses research items that both positively and negligibly support the connection of the arts and math. She discusses the “Mozart Effect” phenomenon in the 90s that showed students who listened to 10 minutes of Mozart improved their scores on certain parts of an intelligence test. She also reveals that those responsible for this research responded to the overreaction of the public by clarifying that the effect only held for about 15 minutes after the experience and that they never purported that Mozart increases intelligence. However, she further discusses more extensive research done that may support academic success when coupled with involvement in the arts.
The arts offer opportunity for involvement for virtually all types of learners. Within the various activities the arts have to offer, there is exposure to practical and functional application of mathematical skills. This exposure provides for both practice and confidence that can and often does lead to academic success.
Keith Remillard, 35,
is a principal/educator
living in East Greenwich, RI.