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The Hart of Geometry


Art and geometry worked hand-in-hand on Thursday July 9 and Friday July 10 in the Talmage building as George Hart came to show BYU students how to make math fun.

From Stony Brook University, Hart is a freelance mathematical sculptor, designer, and co-founder of the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. His workshops focused on how to create various structures using geometric theories.

“I don’t remember a time not building geometric things,” Hart said. “I’ve always liked math. I always liked making stuff as a kid. I just made bigger and fancier things as I went along.”

Hart’s goal is to help teachers and students see that math can extend far beyond the textbook—math can be hands-on and exciting.

“Having teachers and students build things with their hands gives them great insights into the fun side of math and mathematical structures that make classrooms so much more exciting,” Hart said. “I try and spread that idea all around.”

The excitement started Thursday as students worked with one another to build small geometric shapes out of playing cards. They paired off and, with the help of Hart, constructed durable models in half an hour.

Mathematics education master’s student Kathleen Smith was intrigued by this teaching approach because of how it used both math and art.

“You have mathematics, that people tend to think is very dry . . . and you combine it with art, which people don’t usually associate with mathematics,” Smith said. “You show something really beautiful as a synergy of those two subjects that normally aren’t thought of as being similar.”

The crowning event took place on Friday. Students came together once more and, with Hart’s instructions, constructed a large cardboard geometric sphere to hang in the lobby of the Talmage building.

Roy Jorgensen, another mathematics education master’s student, was one of the students who helped construct the sphere.

“So often in the classroom, students are stuck looking at three-dimensional things on a two-dimensional textbook page,” Jorgensen said. “This gives us the opportunity to . . . see geometry at work.”

Once the structure was completed, Blake Peterson, chair of the Department of Mathematics Education, stood with Hart and the students and watched as the cardboard creation was hung from the ceiling.

“[These graduate students] learn some new geometry, and they get some ideas for teaching,” Peterson said. “We are doing things that stretch them but gives them ideas to possibly do in school with kids.”

Hart travels the world conducting these workshops. He has been able to go to London, Thailand, Canada, Baltimore, and many other locations. Hart came to BYU after Peterson saw him at a conference, contacted him directly, and invited him to present his concepts to the students at BYU.

“It’s pretty fascinating and a wonderful opportunity,” Jorgensen said. “[We get] to see somebody who is an expert in their field come to BYU and . . . influence us to . . . look at this aspect of geometry.”