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Graphing equations: there is an art to it

Northview — Graphing equations became an artistic exercise recently for students in Sarah Snyder’s second- and third-hour college algebra classes at Northview High.

To wrap up a unit on conic sections, students were charged to show off their data-plotting, slope-including and equation-evaluating skills by creating straight- and curved-line art using Desmos, an online program.

Their task: use four types of equations – circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola – to create an image of whatever they wanted.

Amora Grajewski and her partner, Keegan Brown, wrote and solved 13 equations to create an image of a pot of gold at the end of a colorful rainbow.

Seniors Cam Martin and James Robinson chose to illustrate a cityscape with a Gotham City bat signal projecting from one rooftop. The signal was twice as challenging as it should have been: “I was halfway through finishing the symbol and I didn’t save it,” before closing his Chromebook, Cam admitted, earning sympathetic groans from his classmates.

A mid-project snafu like that would have been extra devastating for junior Anna Malaker, who wrote a whopping 137 equations to create a splatteringly accurate rendering of Christian Bale’s yuppie serial killer from  the 2000 movie “American Psycho.”

“Basically, everything about it was hard,” Anna said.

And there were others: a rocket blasting off from Earth for the moon by senior Lilli Karnowski; an ocean scene complete with fish, bubbles making their way to the surface and aquatic plants waving in the current by senior Katie Hudgens; a teddy bear with “intriguing hands, but I think he’s adorable,” said senior Hannah Scribner; and a very recognizable portrayal of pop and style icon Harry Styles by seniors Rheya Vincent and Eva Frymire, done in 107 equations. 

“Wow, look at all those equations, and these are just the eyebrows!” Snyder said to the class as she scrolled along the side of the Styles image to see which equation resulted in which line.

Senior Amara Grajewski, pictured, created something Irish with partner Keegan Brown

Skill-building and More

This is the third year Snyder has led the equation image project, which she began when she started to offer the college algebra class. This year she increased the number of days they had to do their creations from two class periods to three, plus the weekend.

When class members presented their work, Snyder had them give these details

“I realized that the more time, the more detailed and amazed I am with their results,” she said. I love how students see (others’) images from previous years and may initially think, ‘There is no way I could do that,’ and then once they are finished they are impressed and proud of themselves.”  

Plus, she said, the project is more than using a fancy computer program to do math and art. 

“It allows students to use their previous knowledge of transformations, domain, range of graphical representations of equations. Also, seeing their creativity and their personalities come out in their work is great and rewarding as a teacher.”

Snyder sees development of crucial soft skills as well.   

“Students also allowed themselves to be invested in a project with many steps without losing motivation and grit. This is a skill that can be taken anywhere,” she said. “Have you tried putting together IKEA furniture?  There are many steps that need to be taken to get to the final masterpiece. Students were able to experience this during their project creation.”

This portrayal of pop and style icon Harry Styles by seniors Rheya Vincent and Eva Frymire was done in 107 equations
Anna Malaker wrote 137 equations to create a rendering of Christian Bale’s character from the 2000 movie ‘American Psycho’
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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