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Historical and Cultural Connections:
A mandala is a complex and intricate work of art that combines geometric patterns and religious symbolism. The word mandala means circle in Sanskrit, but this art form is also widely seen beyond India and Southeast Asia. While its origins lead us to spiritual and cultural meanings found in many faiths, a more modern use is also seen in architecture and art therapy.
After my last post about rangoli, Annie and I had a conversation about what differentiates rangolis and mandalas. I don’t know if this is the correct (or complete) answer, but from our conversation and some additional research I believe that traditionally mandalas have to be circular and have rotational symmetry whereas rangolis can have both reflective and rotational symmetry and do not necessarily have to be circular. Additionally, the main feature for rangolis is the way in which it is created (ie. using whole or ground rice or sand). Sand mandalas are commonly found in the Buddhist faith, however more commonly these are found as hand drawings or among architectural styles.
Thoughts for Classroom Implementation:
Especially in current times, it is crucial for us to acknowledge, value and embed multicultural perspectives in our classrooms. An activity such as this one gives all students an opportunity to learn more about an aspect of their own/their peers’ identity and gain a more global perspective of various cultural practices. Additionally it bridges and integrates many different school subjects (ie. art, math, language, world history, and science) that are often seen and taught as isolated topics.
There is an abundant amount of mathematical structure that exists in nature, and the video below describes how male pufferfish use just their fins and objects found on the ocean floor to create and decorate mathematically perfect mandalas to attract female mates.
A common practice amongst Tibetan monks is making mandalas as a small group. The video below is a great example of how they use various mathematical tools to attend to precision while practicing a cultural tradition. Each monk has their assigned side or part of the mandala to complete and yet the finished product looks as if it was completed by one individual. The patience, precision, and trust in each other that they work with is amazing and inspiring to watch. Such a mathematical and collaborative activity leads to a natural connection to practicing group work norms while attending to the standards for mathematical practice.
In both examples with the pufferfish and the Tibetian monks, an important aspect for us to consider as teachers is the amount of time it takes to complete one mandala. If school mathematics needs to emulate the mathematics that students see in nature, art, culture, etc, these examples show us that we need to give students more time and opportunities to practice mathematical skills.
In addition to the connections between other content areas and the math practice standards, the process of making mandalas also connects to many math content standards (an incomplete list):
Examples and Other Resources:
Below is an example I made using the Autodesk SketchBook app on the iPad (sped up 20 times).
For other beautiful examples I would encourage you to check out Clarissa Grandi’s blog post and #Maydala on twitter!
For more #MathArtChallenges take a look at Annie Perkin’s blog!