Activities for Integrating Math & Art in the Classroom

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Math and art together are not as foreign as you might think. This lesson highlights areas where they occur together in our world, and offers suggestions for how you can integrate them into your classroom.

Math and Art in nature

Many people see math and art as separate subjects that do not intersect at all. Math is an objective, scientific course, while art is purely subjective and certainly isn't a science, or is it? If you consider that math is really a set of specific, ordered patterns, and that many pieces of art also use specific ordered patterns, you can see that math and art can easily fit together. In fact, in nature, we see the artistic order of patterns in many places. One of the most recognizable is the nautilus sea shell with its beautiful, perfect spiral shape.

nautilus

Looking at the exponentially decreasing size of the spiralling segments, it is easy to see the math in this beautiful pattern found in nature. I'm sure you can think of many other naturally occurring objects that are both extremely artistic, and also follow clear mathematical rules in their general make up. If it occurs in nature, then why not combine the two concepts in the classroom. This provides for a fuller experience of each subject as students learn to appreciate the two together.

When considering activities to integrate math and art in the classroom, you can separate the activities into categories based on the main focus and by-product of the activity. Some activities are focused on math with an art by-product, while some are much more focused on art giving a by-product of supported math concepts.

Math with an Art by-product

One of the most flexible, and easiest, ways to incorporate math and art is by using the old standard Paint-By-Numbers work sheets. Do you remember these? They start as a white background with lines criss-crossing over the page or canvas. Each segment formed by the lines has a number inside it. There is a legend that comes with the activity letting the artist know what color to use for which number. The end product is a beautifully painted picture.

You can use this same foundation to give your students math practice at any level. The youngest students might have simple addition problems in each segment with given instructions such as:

' Find the sum and color the segment based on the answer; 9=green, 4=blue…'

You could use subtraction, multiplication or division for increasingly difficult work, and could mix the operations for increased complexity.

This would also work for higher order math. As students progress in their math skills, you can increase the difficulty level of the math problems to be worked. Just think, you could use algebra, geometry, or trigonometry questions with color coded answer options.

And the flexibility options are amazing; any holiday is covered, just change the picture. School spirit is also covered by changing the picture. There are many ways to adjust this activity to suit all levels, and all times of the year, so that the math lesson results in art done by the student!

Art with a math by-product

These activities would seem to be art lessons, but within the art are subtle (and not so subtle) lessons in math. The field of math that most closely relates to art is geometry. Geometry is the study of shapes and patterns of shapes. From the earliest years in school, students start learning geometry by learning their shapes. A great way to encourage math skills while creating art is to give the students tangrams. A tangrams is a Chinese puzzle that uses seven different shaped pieces. These pieces can be used by students to create pictures using the different shapes.

You might ask them to use 'Four rectangles, one triangle and two circles' and see what type of picture they make. The math integration is subtle, as it simply has the students identify the correct shapes as they focus on creating art. Here is an example of what might be produced in this scenario.

tangram art

In higher order geometry and trigonometry, angles can be used to draw specific and detailed works of art. The instructions might be to create an artistic piece using only angles smaller than 45 degrees. You can see where the support for math skills comes in to play, and in the process of integrating these math concepts, the student is also creating art.

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