Math in the Garden: Hyperboloids



The issues:

How to teach important mathematics in and with a school garden? How to create real-world, useful and beautiful mathematical objects that have a function in the garden?

The story:

George Hart, mathematical sculptor, co-founder of the Museum of Mathematics in New York and Bridges Math and Art  was ‘mathematical artist in residence’ at the UBC Orchard Garden in July 2014. We asked George to design a gateway or arbour way that we could use to support climbing plants in the garden, that would also be a mathematically-interesting structure, and that could be made from locally harvested materials.






George designed this beautiful hyperboloid gate, and a smaller learning activity where students could learn to make and understand hyperboloids through making a small version of the gate from bamboo barbecue skewers. You can see George’s film about hyperboloids and the gate and view a lesson plan for making the small skewer hyperboloids.

We have since built two hyperboloid gates in the Orchard Garden: one in 2014 (with UBC students and participants in PME, an international conference on mathematics education held at UBC), and the second, in 2016-17, with UBC grad students and teacher candidates. Susan Gerofsky has brought George’s activity to graduate students at the Freie Universität Berlin as part of a mathematics education residency, and to the elementary school students at Hornby Island Community School, who are working on a collaboration with an orchard garden there.

Invitation to consider possible extensions:

Building small and large hyperboloids with your own students and in your school garden
Brainstorming other mathematical forms that would provide useful and interesting functions in a garden — for example, shapes that would be useful for creating folding tables and benches, shade structures, etc.


Some guiding questions:

How could this work in your school garden?

  • How can mathematics learning take place in and with a living space like a garden, forest, beach or meadow?
  • What mathematics can be noticed in living plants and trees?
  • What mathematical objects can be made and appreciated/ studied by learners?
  • How does mathematics connect with the arts?
  • How can STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) become STEAM learning (with the integration of the arts in STEM) ?

Please leave your comments and experiences below.

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