Helping Fashionistas Overcome Fear of Math

Fear of Math (FOM): a common condition among students under the assumption that they are poor at math. Synonyms: math anxiety

Clarre Johnson
   Clare Johnson

Clare Johnson is an artist and mathematics professor, a rare but winning combination for helping budding fashionistas overcome FOM. She knew teaching art and design students about mathematics at a college for fashion-related studies would be different from teaching on other college campuses. Often students came into her classroom with a case of math anxiety, and it was Johnson’s job to break it down in ways they could understand and apply to their unique fields. With creative thinking and a curriculum she designed herself, Johnson found a way to unite the students’ creativity with logical process to show that mathematics does relate to and can enhance design.

Years before Johnson was a teacher, she was a dancer and a musician, giving lecture-demos at mathematics conferences that showed how music and dance relate to mathematics. Her background in the arts gave her a unique insight to teaching mathematics in a structure that wouldn’t lose her art students’ interest or exacerbate FOM.

The result was a special curriculum titled “Geometry and the ARt of Design,” funded by a National Science Foundation grant. The course covered five major categories in the curriculum: symmetry, phi and Fibonacci, tiling, polyhedra, and topography. The curriculum is designed to unite the students’ creativity and imagination with analytical skills. This helps ground the budding designers with logical analysis that they can combine with their natural propensity for design.

Johnson is currently a professor in the Science and Mathematics Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where her mathematics background helped her problem-solve department management. Her advice to any student is to pursue a variety of interests.

“I strongly recommend a liberal arts background for any career, including a career in mathematics,” said Johnson. “No career is uni-faceted. A varied background helps enable a person to deal with the multi-facets of a career.”

Clare Johnson is a Professor of Mathematics at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She earned a PhD in Mathematics Education from Columbia University, an MA in Mathematics from Duquesne University, and a BS in Mathematics from Spring Hill College.