Interview with WGBH Innovation Math Challenge Winners, Thomas Nishimoto and Lisa Cutchin
Tell us about yourself — what are some of your hobbies?
Thomas: I’ve always liked making videos. I make them with my friends sometimes, so when Mrs. Cutchin found the Innovation Math Challenge, I decided to go ahead and make a video with it. My hobbies are building with Lego and animating with stop animation. I also do sports like tae kwon do and soccer.
Mrs. Cutchin: Last summer, Thomas and his brother and another student from school took an animation course. At the end of the summer one of the moms sent a link to the video the students made so that the teachers could see what they created. We were blown away by what these MS students had created. I wanted to offer an opportunity in art that would allow my students to make movies. When I found out about the challenge, I shared it with my 8th graders, but had no takers. I and was dumbfounded there was no interest. Thomas finally came forward and said he had an interest. He used art time to do a storyboard and brainstorm.
I’m a life long learner, having spent 25 years working in industry and the past 10 years teaching. It is important for me to have real life applications for what I’m teaching. That’s the bottom line where you have to perform in the real world in a work situation. You have to take knowledge and apply it and the classroom should mirror this.
What drew you to the challenge?
Mrs. Cutchin: I announced it in class and when Thomas said he was interested, I asked him to come up with an idea. At the end of one art class he said he didn’t have an idea. I had a lesson that I had taught a couple years earlier on Alexander Calder and making mobiles. One of the dilemmas when students make a mobile is that they don’t get it balanced. They are not focused on the math side of the process, and they just put stuff together. I had a formula for applying to the process of making the mobile. When I presented it to my 8th graders before, they looked at it like a deer in headlights. Thomas got it and ran with it. That is how the video came about.
How did you choose your topic and what was the reasoning behind the theme?
Mrs. Cutchin: I gave Thomas some of my worksheets that I had from the actual lesson plan. He took those and started working. Some work was done in art class, some at home.
Thomas: When Mrs. Cutchin found the equation, I really liked it. I took one of the worksheets to get familiar with how the equation works. I spent my class time doing math because it was a bit complicated.
What was your work process like?
Mrs. Cutchin: We got together after school one Friday. I had cut metal pieces and had nylon fishing line and wire to construct the mobile. Thomas used one of the school cameras and started taking pictures. He took those pictures home and continued working. His animation work was done at home. He brought in first version to show me on a thumb drive. He continued to work on and improve the video, by adding small details.
What do you think students will take away from your stop animation?
Thomas: Students can take away that math can be used in real life. Maybe more stuff like this but not only focused in art, focused in other things they want to do. i.e. sports – connecting sports to math.
Do you see a great need for these math resources?
Thomas: Yes, I think it should be presented through multi media. Just learning out of a textbook is boring. If you present it through a video, especially an interesting or fun video, students would get more into learning about math than just reading out of a book.
How would you like your resource to be used in the classroom?
Thomas: I think I’d like it to be more to show that math is used in real life rather than teach someone how to do something i.e. teach how mobiles work. Every day I hear from classmates, “When am I going to use this again,” and I want this video to show that yes, you do use math.
Do you like math?
Thomas: Yes, I do. I enjoy doing math problems. I enjoy algebra a lot and graphing mostly because it's like a puzzle; trying to figure out what the answer could be.
Mrs. Cutchin: I liked math up through algebra and when I got beyond that I was always saying how am I ever going to use this. I also think as a girl, growing up in the 60s and 70s, people weren’t saying you can grow up to be an engineer. During my 25 years working in industry, I had to think analytically and used a lot of basic math and I still do today in teaching art. Our school is a STEM school and 2 years ago my art theme was full STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art, and math) ahead. I put a lot of math and science into the art I teach and I’m starting to build engineering in also. We use technology all the time. Thomas’ class has 1:1 teaching with iPads pulling all of this together with teamwork and good communications. Utilizing the resources is important because when students graduate and go into the real world, these are the kind of skills they’re going to use in a job. The more they like something, the more likely they are to learn and explore and excel.
Making math interesting, making it applicable is so important. I use math in the art room.. We’re constantly using some application whether proportions, ratios, statistics and data. I tell parents we produce 10,000 pieces of art in the art room each year. When you put a number like 10,000 out there it gets peoples attention.
Math to me is an important part of the equation of learning. You’ve got to be able to communicate, read and write, understand basic laws of physics, and math. Students who may not be traditional learners in math, science or ELA can sometimes make connections to these disciplines through the arts. It was especially interesting to me that Thomas was able to bring math and art together in the video.
What is one thing you learned from the IMC experience?
Mrs Cutchin: To believe in yourself. I wanted to do this, to try it to see what Thomas would come up with. It’s awesome. I was so excited when he came up with the final product. I didn’t expect to win, the fact that we’re having this conversation and it’s out there is kind of fun. Watching the views and the likes on the video is kind of fun! There are many times we were looking for a quick answer but we stuck with it and kept working with it to see what we could come up with. It was collaboration. I get ideas from my students and give ideas to them. Collaboration and staying with it has been a wonderful experience. It’s so exciting.
Thomas: Well, what I learned was never give up and don’t just go with the first thing you come up with. Always look for an improvement. If I had gone with what I first came up with it probably wouldn’t have won. My family and brother kept saying, you can make it better.
Mrs. Nishimoto: A couple of times I said, "Just go back and watch it to see if that’s the best you can do." He decided to stick with it a little more. It’s amazing what he came up with.
Watching the video was interesting because I was learning too. I had no idea there was an equation for how you balance mobiles. I watched as another student might and could say, “I don’t quite get it,” and he would make changes to make it clearer to me. That’s where he made the improvements and that’s what is great about it. I loved learning in a different way that did not rely on a textbook.
It’s really neat for him to be able to do something he thinks is fun and is academic as well. It’s been a great experience. Thank you and your station for all that you are doing. It makes it easier for educators, students, and parents because there are so many quality resources that you’re making available.
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