Science of SciComm: Breaking down the art/math dichotomy

Abstract waves of lines in a fractal pattern, with a spectrum of colors including pink, yellow, blue, purple, and green

These two ideas combine to support using someone’s inclination towards one sphere to boost their understanding in another. I have gone on a long journey of oscillating between both spheres before realizing I didn’t have to choose, and now I am an ecological scientist who can still use art as a vessel with which to communicate science. As I learn and engage more with bridging the gap between these spheres, it becomes abundantly clear that there is a benefit to teaching math-related subjects, such as science, through using art.

Different styles of learning have been a popular educational topic in recent years. Two of these styles are tactile and visual, two of the most common learning styles[1][2], where students digest information best when performing physical activities and when presented with pictures, diagrams, and graphics. It is clear how art can come into play for these students when learning science. At a minimum, teachers could facilitate activities such as drawing and coloring, or visiting museums that often have large educational wall murals, to help visualize plaque descriptions. Even online, creators are effectively sharing science through art. For example, a few years ago The Oatmeal released a webcomic about the mantis shrimp (Inman, 2013), a colorful sea creature with amazing eye structures and unique hunting techniques. In the same month, the number of searches on Google for “mantis shrimp” suddenly skyrocketed to peak popularity. This is a perfect display of how art was able to capture people’s interest, and teach science in the process.

Blue timeline graph showing the popularity of the search term “mantis shrimp” spiking in April 2013 when it is most popular, and again in April 2015.
: A timeline of interest in the mantis shrimp over 16 years. The number next to the search term represents search interest relative to the peak on the chart. A value of 100 indicates when the term was most popular. (Credit: Google Trends)

Further efforts today are attempting to break down this divide between the two spheres of art and math subjects. There are resources made available online for educators to teach math through art, especially for younger students (, by Nancy Benerofe; YouCubed, Maths and Art by Diarra Gueye;; Teaching Science Through the Visual Arts and Music by Carol Seefeldt). People are realizing more and more how the basis of both spheres are the same: creativity. It is regressive to relegate students to being either art-driven or math-driven, but instead we should embrace both aspects and use one sphere to increase the learning potential of the other.

Cited Literature

[1] Kharb, P., Samanta, P.P., Jindal, M. and Singh, V., 2013. The learning styles and the preferred teaching—learning strategies of first year medical students. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: JCDR, 7(6), 1089.

[2] Lujan, H.L. and DiCarlo, S.E., 2006. First-year medical students prefer multiple learning styles. Advances in Physiology Education. 30(1), 13-16.


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