Math in Your Hands

By Katherine Harding and Neali Vann, Office of Communications and Marketing



Industrial design students at Auburn University are involved in a project to make learning math easier and more fun for high school and college students. They are designing and creating interactive models of complex mathematical principles ranging from the simple Pythagorean Theorem to the Szilassi polyhedron. The goal is to show how students will learn mathematical facts easier and at a deeper level through informal hands-on experiments.

For the past three years, students in industrial design professor and program chair Bret Smith's third year product design studios have been collaborating with András Bezdek in the College of Science and Mathematics to create hands-on mathematical equations. This past year the math studio was taught by visiting assistant professor Ben Puffer while Smith was on sabbatical.

The project was initiated by Bezdek, who wanted to create mathematical models to use in the classroom, and he wanted a designer's touch. He approached Industrial Design and asked if they would be willing to undertake a sponsored studio in which the industrial design students designed and built hands-on models that could be used to teach mathematical principles.

"Visualization in mathematics is important at any age," Bezdek said. "It helps students learn how to think mathematically. These models are good for all ages. They were created by students for students."

The first students to experience this hands-on way of learning were in Auburn High School mathematics teacher Billy Ramsey's tenth grade class. They came to campus to see an assortment of the models that were put together in a collection titled "Math in Your Hands."

Ramsey was very complimentary of the exhibit and thought it made mathematics more fun and relatable to his students.

"This is a great introduction to advanced concepts," Ramsey said. "Students can actually get their hands on proofs and concepts that we have learned or are getting ready to learn."

There are 45 models and a display system. The students, working under Smith's direction, also designed an exhibit system, a logo, and exhibit graphics designed to communicate to a non-math audience.

As Smith explains, "The models have to be presented in a way that engages the curiosity of the viewer. To do this, the industrial design students designed an exhibit and explanatory graphics that connected the models and mathematics to daily life."

The design studios were supported by the Office of University Outreach.

Last Updated: May 14, 2012

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