Two local teachers who’ve been teaching high school students to weave mathematics topics into art projects won a global education prize last week.

High Tech High Media Arts teachers Margaret Noble and David Stahnke took first place in the “Knowledge Building and Critical Thinking” category of the Global Forum Educator Awards, which Microsoft sponsors to recognize teachers’ innovative uses of technology in their classrooms.

Noble and Stahnke’s students explore topics and theories like the life stories of mathematicians, the interactions between math and music, how a series of Fibonacci numbers show up in nature, the mystery of pi and mental illness in mathematicians. They take those topics and make films, songs, photo installations, animations and other digital art projects. (You can watch several of them here.)

I caught Noble on the phone for a minute this afternoon. She said she wasn’t sure the project would have a shot in the competition, let alone win. The whole event in Washington, D.C. felt special for the teachers from all over the world who were honored, she said. “They treated the teachers like royalty,” she said.

We visited the class last December as students prepared to exhibit their work. Stahnke and Noble were beaming as the students put final touches on their projects.

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

“I was afraid that they were really going to give me pushback on having to make creative projects about math, because that’s just the general sentiment in society, that math is boring,” multimedia arts teacher Noble says in the clip below.

“But once they found their own voice and chose their own topic, I was blown away by how much buy-in they had, by how much passion they had,” she said. “And I’ve never been more overwhelmed with happiness and how great I think their work is.”

Watch more from our visit last December:

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You can watch more videos from the conference in Washington, D.C., to see more about the teachers’ approach to the project. Here’s an interview with Noble, where she talks about the different learning styles of her students. And here’s one from Stahnke, where he explains that when you’re interested in something, like math, you’re more likely to enjoy it.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

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

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