The Maths Scholars scheme interviews artist Ann-Marie Ison

Ann-Marie Ison has been working as a teaching assistant in schools for around 7 years. She specialises in working with children and young people with complex needs and learning difficulties.  Art has also helped dramatically with really complex mathematical ideas.

‘During my time in this environment I became very aware that there’s quite a change in the curriculum and emphasis on STEM subjects. Sadly it appears that Arts subjects are being pushed to margins. This is a pity because I have experienced considerable success and pleasure using art with children to promote a greater understanding of the stem subjects. Particularly I've been using art to help them to get to grips with understanding mathematics. Art has helped dramatically in getting students to get to grips with really complex mathematical ideas.’ I hope to demonstrate to them that maths is not just about numbers, logic and complicated formulas, but also symmetry, shape and beauty. At the same time art is not only about emotion, colour and aesthetics, but also pattern and problem solving.

For me art and maths has been a two way process

‘As art is a passion of mine I tried to bring it into some of the maths I was teaching with the children. The way I’ve done that is to focus on ideas regarding pattern, repetition and symmetry. That’s pretty simple to do but extraordinarily effective. Interestingly, when I came home in the evening the ideas I had been exploring in school started coming through the art I was doing in my own time. It was a symbiotic experience almost.’

‘The bird pictures I started working on are a case in point. In nature you see a lot of repetition across breeds but also with lots of subtle variation. This showed up in my work too. All of my birds are hand drawn and almost identical but actually slightly different. The differences are what’s really interesting to me.’

Repetition in nature, science and maths

‘From there I started playing with patterns found in nature, not only found in animals. Aspects such as: reflections in water, shapes formed when a seed from a horse chestnut falls to ground making geometrical patterns. These are completed while focusing on these shapes that you find. One particular piece of work called the Blue Diamond came into being when I was looking at stars at night. I wanted to demonstrate how stars appear to draw towards you as well as pulling away as if moving and turning. I tried hard to get this sense of movement across in Blue Diamond.’

Circles are brilliant for explaining concepts

‘Then I completed another that gave the impression of the spiral shapes created when the horse chestnut fruit falls to the ground like a helicopter. This was called Pirouette and I have created a few like that trying to get those concepts across.

When trying to explain the concept of number patterns to the children I have been using quite a lot a 10 point circles upon which you do the times tables. I find them an effective way of getting children to learn times tables and wondered whether you could use that concept to show number patterns like Pi, Fibonacci and prime numbers. I divided a circle into 10 sections and then further subdivided each of the sections.  I connected each number in the sequence together. Every time there's a recurrence of a unit for example 2, 12, 22, 32  you would connect to the subdivided section within number 2. An example would be in prime numbers 7 would be in the first in the 7 section then it would move to 1 (11), 3.1 (13), then back to the 7.1 for 17,  I connected the first 100 number on the sequence to see what patterns emerged. I also visualized number sequences and see if that helps children and adults to see how beautiful maths is and doesn’t have to be seen as difficult.’

‘In addition I used a lot of parabolic curves, golden ratio and Fibonacci with the children at school. I have also used a lot of fractals with the Koch Curve, Koch snowflake and fractal trees and love these as they are so repetitive. It’s a really simple concept. The repetition concept is so simple; taking something small repeating and building on it makes it quite beautiful.’

I love the light bulb moments!

‘Even adults talk about the snowflake idea. Initially they cannot see it and say the whole thing is far too complex. But when I break it down and they see how simple it really is they understand fractals, area and perimeter and I love seeing those kinds of things click with people. You know, the moment a concept is understood. It’s exciting!’

‘Currently I am showing work in a few local galleries in Worcester, online and at science events within Cheltenham Science Group. This is a group trying to set up a science centre in Cheltenham to take science and stem subjects to children. I work full time and so don’t have much spare capacity in the system but do my best.  However, I’m finishing my current role in July and hope to do more workshops for schools. I will be available for combined Maths and Art Workshops from September 2016

You can find some of Ann-Marie Ison’s art work here