Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Poetry-and-Math -- Interdisciplinary Courses

     On July 1 my posting considered math-poetry anthologies and began with a reference to Against Infinity, the discovery of which was a catalyst for my own inclusion of poetry in my mathematics classrooms.  Other mathematicians and writers have gone further and developed interdisciplinary courses--such courses are the topic for this posting. 
     I begin with a small item from Against Infinity, this one a "Found Poem" by Elaine Romaine (found in the math textbook Calclulus on Manifolds by Michael Spivak):

     Stokes' theorem
     shares three important attributes
     with many fully evolved major theorems:
     1.  It is trivial.
     2.  It is trivial because
          the terms appearing in it
          have been properly defined.
     3.  It has significant consequences.

     Marcia Birken and Anne C Coon at Rochester Institute of Technology developed a long-term mathematics-poetry collaboration that involved a team-taught course and, eventually, a book  -- Discovering Patterns in Mathematics and Poetry (Rodopi, Amsterdam, 2008).  Their survey ranges from patterns in counting, rhythm, and rhyme, to patterns with ideas; it considers poems with geometric shape, poems influence by fractals, poems that puzzle with paradox and infinity.  For its varied examples, I open it often.
     At Arcadia University, poet-mathematician Marion Cohen has developed an interdisciplinary course entitled "Truth and Beauty:  Mathematics in Literature" for which she offers this description:
     Throughout history, mathematics has been an inspiration to writers. Math itself is one of the major expressions of the mysteries, beauty, and truth of our universe; literature about math enhances this expression. Just as science has led to science fiction (and creative non-fiction), so math has led to something anlogous. This course will explore some mathematical writings thorugh the ages, as well as the math that inspired them.
     Marion invites you to contact her for further information about her texts, her syllabus, and so on.

     At Bucknell University, Lynn Breyfogle has this to say about her math-poetry seminar:
     At Bucknell, we have a first-semester freshman course called a Foundation Seminar; in place of a traditional composition course, this seminar is situated in a particular field or discipline. The goals are to introduce students to collegiate level and academic writing. During Fall 2009, I taught a Foundation Seminar entitled, "Where Mathematics and Literature Intersect" and we read and discussed mathematical poetry, novels/novellas, and film. I organized the course chronologically within each type of literature to look for historical as well as cultural shifts in the perspectives.  The  goals of the course were to cultivate an appreciation for mathematics, and develop an awareness for the diversity of mathematical literature and its possible uses for personal growth. It was my first time teaching this course, so I welcome an interchange of ideas for how it might be different when I teach it again in fall 2011. I'm happy to share my syllabus and reading list and assignments with anyone interested, please contact me.

     Robert McCann at the University of Toronto has been involved with a math poetry course modelled on a course by Peter Taylor and Bill Barnes which he took as an undergraduate at Queen's University. (he also recreated a version of the course at Brown University with Catherine Imbriglio in Fall 1997).

     Patrick Bahls at the University of North Carolina, Ashville, has written about his experiences with poetry in his mathematics classroom:  "Math and Metaphor: Using Poetry to Teach College Mathematics" and  The Mathematical Muse: Using Math to Construct Poetry

     Mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz at the University of Connecticut has used poetry in her teaching and written several articles:
     "Modeling with Poetry in an Introductory College Algebra Course and Beyond," by Glaz and Su Liang,(Journal of Mathematics and the Arts  Vol. 3, No. 3, September 2009, 123-133).  Poetry Inspired by Mathematics (to appear in the  Proceedings of  the Bridges 2010 Conference).   The Enigmatic Number e: A History in Verse and Its Uses in the Mathematics Classroom (forthcoming in the MAA online journal, MathDL).

     Many interdisciplinary activities occur in the world outside the classroom:  A collection of art-math-poetry exhibits/events organized by John Sims began in the Fall of 2009 at the Bowery Poetry Club where Sims is Artist-in-Residence.  Most of the publicity for events has been on a Rhythm of Structure site on Facebook.  In Sims' words:  A series of nine duet and group exhibitions and performances for the Bowery Poetry Club, focusing on the visual language of mathematical ideas and process as a way to explore a spectrum of themes from geometric landscapes to the socio-political.
       Brookyn Academy of Science and Environment's art students under the direction of teacher Jennifer Lemish were challenged by Sims to visualize the Pythagorean equation 20² + 21² = 29².   The students researched various design solutions and as a class created a group solution in the form of a wall installation  This You-Tube video shows some of the students at work.  And here is a perfomance video of their MathArt poem.
     Sims introduces the student poem in this way:  “Here is a poem I did with my NYU students in response to the Sol LeWitt / Adrian Piper show. Each student including myself wrote and recorded a small poem that was stitched together into a hyper poem. Visually each poem was mapped into a binary visualization of pi (see my pi quilt work — same idea). These crossword-looking forms were then mapped back into the original binary form (this gives a sense of self-similiarity as seen in fractals). Now, we created a model of this in animation space. The default flight path is associated with the sequence of pi in base two. As you travel over each section you will hear the voice of the student associated with that sub-poem. However the program allows for any path.”

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