To compete in a school-wide holiday contest in high school, my grade 12 math class and I dressed a two-dimensional version of our math teacher up as Santa Claus and attached a speech bubble so he’d be uttering (HO)3.

Yes, we were dorks. Yes, we won the contest.

But that was about the extent of the creative space we had in math class. Pencils and papers were pretty much it, and calculators were the most high-tech thing we used.

That’s a world away from what the seniors at High Tech High Media Arts are doing in their math class, which crosses over into their digital art class. I went with our partners at NBC 7/39 to visit on Friday. It was the last day they had to turn in projects they’ve been working on all semester to explore topics they chose from mathematics — students were working to finish animations, photo essays and sound pieces.

Their teachers had asked them to “find the beauty, humanity and intrigue behind math in history, philosophy and the applied arts.” The varied projects included a music video about the life and times of the mathematician Pythagoras, an exploration of the mysteries of pi, a catalog of the appearances of Fibonacci numbers in nature (a series of numbers created by adding the previous two numbers) and a sculpted airplane to illustrate da Vinci’s ideas about flight.

The students’ math teacher, David Stahnke, said the students’ passion for the topics they chose underscored what he believes about math, that it’s not a dry subject.

“The stigma with math is that it’s not creative, but it’s one of the most creative things humans can embark on,” he said.

Several of the students made conceptual art for their projects. One group explored, with sound and photographs, the concept of entropy — “how the universe tends toward disorder, and how the arrow of time always points toward the future,” Stahnke said.

That certainly puts my Santa project to shame.

Now, the students are installing their work for an exhibition called “Illuminated Mathematics” at Sushi in East Village this Thursday evening from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Here’s the clip from Friday’s newscast with a taste of a bit of the student work. In the video, you’ll hear from Margaret Noble, the students’ digital art teacher:

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I’m the arts editor for VOSD. Have an idea for something I should explore in San Diego’s arts scene? Please contact me directly at or 619.325.0531. You can also follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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