Mathematics Beyond the Classroom: A Mini-Lesson on Interactive Technology

This post is part of a series written by Live It Learn It’s Experiential Learning Fellows. During their year-long fellowship with LILI, Fellows are planning their own experience-driven mini-units that include both classroom and field components. In these posts, Fellows will reflect on the experience of planning and leading a Live It Learn It-style unit of study.

In today’s post we’re hearing from Mary Louise Delaney-Soesman. Ms. Delaney is a 5th grade teacher at Savoy Elementary School in DC’s Ward 8.

Every day, our world is changing with advancements in technology.  According to Media Post, there will be “four networked devices and connections per person globally by 2021… however, in North America, there will be 13 networked devices and connections per person.”  The dramatic growth in use of connected devices has changed the landscape of education.  As educators, setting our students up for success means ensuring their ability to use and understand technology is up to par.

Often, students seem to be experts on how to use technology, recognize any technical problems, and then learn how to fix them.  Unfortunately, they are often unaware of the connection between what they are learning and the technology they love.  The goal of this lesson is to hook students into discovering the how behind responsive technology and its relationship with math.

Update: As of January 2019, the New Nature exhibit by Marpi (referenced below) has closed. However, this lesson is highly adaptable to the current exhibit, Everything in Existence, at Artechouse DC.

Mini Lesson, (divided below into Pre-Lesson, Field Experience, and Post-Lesson)

Objective: The students will be able to identify moments in video and text that provoke questions and ignite curiosity of how responsive technology works.  Through the thinking routine, students will support their ideas with evidence from the video, text, and classroom learning.

Time: 30-45 minutes, but can be adjusted as needed


Age Group: Upper elementary through lower middle school

Teacher Planning:

First, preview Project Zero’s See, Think, Wonder thinking routine.  The goal of this thinking routine is for students to make observations and develop their ideas based on what they have seen.  Due to the exhibit having multiple pieces, I decided to use a video that showed each piece for the thinking routine.  This is important to note since Artechhouse DC is an interactive exhibit, so photos alone will not provide students with an understanding of what they will be visiting.

The general steps of the thinking routine are as follows:Next, preview the video of the exhibit and try out the thinking routine for yourself.  As you go through the routine, document your own responses. After you have created your own See, Think, Wonder, brainstorm what responses your students may give.  What teaching strategies and classroom management techniques will you implement to ensure all students are engaged in thinking about the mathematics behind responsive technology?

Then, preview the Artechouse explanation of the exhibit online.  Go through the thinking routine once again, adding to what you have already written down. I decided to project the explanation and read it aloud to my students, stopping throughout and clarifying some of the vocabulary. Depending on your students’ reading abilities, a printed copy for each student to read independently would suffice.

Last, decide how you’d like your students to complete the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine. Will they use a 3-column chart like the sample below?  Will students complete their own graphic organizer in cooperative groups?  Would your students benefit from reading the explanation before viewing the video? Prepare, gather, and print any materials you choose based on your students and their needs.


Start the lesson by asking the students if any of them play video games.  Allow 2-3 minutes of discussion on what types of games and systems they play, and why they enjoy them.  Inform the students that they are preparing for a trip in which they will be using responsive technology in an art museum.  Explain the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine, and tell the class they will watch the video once, and then a second time to come up with their responses to See, Think, Wonder.

As students begin to share, monitor and probe them to dig deeper into each category. In whole group, partners, or small groups, ask the questions: Why do you think the technology is designed that wayWhat purpose do you think it might have for the user?  If conversation lags, or responses are not content-driven, show the video again and reset the thinking routine expectations.  If done in partners or small groups, have students share answers out loud to the class, then repeat the process for the excerpt on the Artechouse DC website.

Close the lesson by having all students share their responses and document them on chart paper, digitally, or on a whiteboard.  Make sure to photograph anything on the whiteboard, because this will be revisited after the field trip.

Field Experience:

Prepare your students ahead of time for proper museum behavior, as it is tempting to run and play in the dark exhibit. Take the students to Artechouse DC and give them an hour to explore.  As students are discovering and learning, interview them about what they are doing, and why they think the exhibit is responding to them in a particular way.  Record their responses to be used for the post-lesson. One student shared with excitement, “When all the balls are like that, and I make my hand go up, it makes all the balls go up too … its reacting to my hand!”


As I planned this lesson and trip, I reached out to the artist, Mateusz “Marpi” Marcinowski, in hopes of receiving some insight about mathematics and its relationship with technology.  He responded and provided links to his work that we used for our Post-Lesson.  Before reading his responses aloud to the class, we looked at videos and photographs I took of the students in the exhibit and applied See, Think, Wonder to our discussion.  I recorded their responses on a new See, Think, Wonder chart, and then we compared this to our pre-lesson chart.  After this, I shared Marpi’s responses with the students and we looked at all the links he provided to further our discussion.

Q & A with Mateusz “Marpi” Marcinowski

  1. What inspired you to create this piece?

Marpi: New Nature is a consolidation of all my previous designs and ideas, as a one consistent universe. A mix of generative organisms with full visitor interaction. I’ve been heavily inspired by organic life patterns, constant change and evolution, and the concepts of adaptation and machine learning. In simpler terms, I’m trying to create things that are alive and feel alive, things that can surprise the visitors but also surprise me.

  1. When creating it, how did you decide to scale the project?

Marpi: All of those started really small, as tiny prototypes. The key is to take a good idea and keep growing it for a long, long time. What also helps is putting every step on social media. That way, you’re not only sharing the journey with others, but you also get constant feedback, and other people can help shape your idea, and just in general, tell you what they’d like. And it gives you a way to make something that you know they’ll enjoy.

  1. What math helped you create the scale and plan the project?

Marpi: The good thing is, there are wonderful gaming engines (I’m using Unity) that can solve most of the complicated issues by default. I’m running full physics simulation and interactivity, all of it is fully functional as part of the software. On my side, I only need trigonometry to be able to write those generative designs, make sure all the pieces connect properly – the rest is taken care of.

  1. How do fractions (proportions) help you with design?

Marpi: I use patterns similar to the ones in succulents and plants, where each connected element is a bit smaller then a previous one.

You can see it clearly here:

  1. Do you use multiples of 10, such as exponents, in your work? If so, how?

Marpi: Yes I do. There are multiple pieces where I run exponential variables running the patterns, you can see some of them here:

  1. What geometric shapes and designs do you use?

Marpi: In my work I use really simple shapes. I create complexity from the large amount of them and physical simulations, but the actual building blocks are really simple. You can see them here:

Spheres, Cones, and Cylinders:

Then just having variable sizes, placement and colors can give me quite complex systems.

If you take photos and post them on social media, be sure to tag us @liveitlearnitdc or #LILIpad. We’d love to hear how you connected technology and math in your classroom! 


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