The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
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Mathematics: Line Design and Identity

How can you demonstrate your identity through a series of linear equations? Our algebra students can show you.
This year, Upper School algebra students are exploring their identities through mathematics. The Line Design project challenges students to take an image and reproduce it entirely with linear equations; they create an equation for each line and shape within the image, and then plug it into Desmos, an online graphing calculator that recreates it. In previous years, students have replicated images from the ninth grade service trip to the Dominican Republic and Fay’s 150-year history. This year, every algebra student was challenged to analyze their identity and mathematically display that into a design or image that represents an important aspect of who they are.

Students in math teacher Craig Ferraro’s Extended Topics in Algebra class started the project by completing an identity worksheet based on the iceberg model where students identified aspects of their identity that are visible to the community as well as those that may be hidden beneath the surface. They distilled all that information into a single image that reflects an important aspect of their identity. “Designs included cityscapes, scenes from nature, flags from their home countries, and activities that they like to do,” says Craig. Students included a short paragraph with each project that explains the image and how it reflects their identity and also filmed themselves in front of the green screen explaining the origins of their design. “It’s been cool for them to connect math to their sense of who they are,” says Craig.

Shelby K., pictured above, is an eighth-grade boarding student from Georgia in math teacher Joe Buteau’s Algebra 1 class. She used her line design project to explore how her self-image has changed over time and why:

“My design came from my innermost feelings about myself. Throughout my life, my mother constantly reminded me of who I was—a black girl in America—and what I’d have to deal with because of that. For years, I grew up around that perception that, due to my skin color, I would never break through to the point of complete happiness and confidence within myself because of the words/actions of others. However, throughout the past few years, seeing an increased representation of beautiful, intelligent, confident, unstoppable black girls from everywhere, especially with different body types and skin tones, inspired me so much, and inspired me to have so much more confidence in myself and my abilities. This is more than anything a statement on self-confidence, and on how all black girls should effortlessly perceive themselves as a queen.”

The line design project has been a feature of the Algebra curriculum for several years but every year it presents students with the opportunity to engage with math in a different way. “The line design project continues to grow from year to year, but the constant is student engagement,” says Mathematics Department Chair Cassandra Papalilo. “Students are excited to construct a design that is meaningful to them using all the mathematical skills they have learned since the beginning of the year.  The students not only learned about who they are as individuals, but who they are as mathematicians, too.”
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