Learning Through Animation, Text and Games

Math Tutoring: The Artistic Understanding

Fig. 1

Hey math tutors out there have you ever experienced a situation like this? You are sitting with a student helping them with their math. You guys come across a problem your student just cannot figure out. You, as the tutor, can see it but your student can’t. It starts to get a little frustrating, though you don’t show it, but you continue to try to help your student understand the concept. Sounds familiar? I had a similar experience with my student on a geometry problem I would like to share with you guys. The purpose of this post is to show that creative methods can be applied to traditional problems to enhance understanding.


Our Problem

My student and I were working on homework assignments as a form of tutoring session. The topic was finding the volume of a rectangular prism similar to the one in the image (fig. 1). The assignment was on “flat” sheets of paper. Notice I mentioned the paper being flat. The reasoning is because he was asked to solve something in three dimensions however, the paper was a flat 2 dimensional plane. My student had a difficult time “seeing” the 3 dimensions being asked to calculate the volume. No matter how hard I tried to help him to understand the image in front of him it was not working at all. I colored the length, height and depth lines of the image with a thick colors and he still couldn’t figure it out.

Fig. 2

The fact that he couldn’t “see” the image for what it was bothered me a bit and I could see it frustrated him also. I didn’t want to give him the answer because then I’m robbing him of learning how to do it and how to figure it out. And I surely didn’t want him to quit. So what did I do to remedy this situation?

The Solution

Since I was able to see the image for what it was truly meant to be and since I’m an artist. I began to draw on the image so objects to give the rectangular prism some perspective. In my crazy creative mind I saw a building. So I drew windows and doors. I then drew an intersection with roads and other buildings to further add depth and perspective. After drawing the additional objects the rectangular prism “popped” out at him and he immediately saw the image for its intended purpose. He was finally able to see the dimensions of the rectangular prism and easily solved the math problem. After that drawing I didn’t have to draw any more images for the following problems for he was able to see the “building” look in them.  The image in figure 3 is an enhanced version of my hand drawn image but you get the point.

Fig. 3

Final Thought

I really enjoyed that moment with my student because I tapped into who I was and what I was made of to help another person in need. In return it helped someone immensely. Sometimes as a tutor, teacher or even a student it’s very helpful to think outside the box when it comes to problem solving. If you’re the artistic type just tap into that skill and use it to aid in understanding. If you’re not artistic try to find understanding using different methods. Just always remember to never give up.

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