Mathematics is a high-stakes subject, especially in light of recent educational initiatives like "Race to the Top" and "Educate to Innovate.” High stakes, however, doesn’t mean that math can’t be fun—or creative, for the matter. In fact, we might even argue that if math students aren’t taught to be creative, they may be unprepared to meet 21st century challenges.
Think about it: Your students’ future isn’t static. Regardless of their future profession, life will demand that they have a diverse skill set. The math-savvy artist, for example, is (most likely) going to have more opportunities than someone whose knowledge stops with their own palette. A rapidly-changing, global economy needs not only solution-oriented, but creative thinkers with a range of experiences and interests.
That’s why we’d like to talk about math and arts integration and offer 2 creative lesson plan ideas that will help you (and your elementary students) take two seemingly disparate subjects (math and art) and fuse them together without having to compromise rigor for good times.
Fac(e)ing Mathematics through arts integration
The human face is a perfect place to begin. Why? For Caren Holtzman and Lynn Susholtz—authors of Object Lessons: Teaching Math through Visual Arts—it’s simply because the face has it all: number, measurement, size, shape, symmetry, ratio and proportion. When you apply these concepts to the body, you not only give your students a new lens through which to view themselves, but you help them to also approach math in a new and exciting way.
Activity 1: Lessons in Symmetry
This activity teaches students to create two-dimensional symmetrical images by giving them a portrait that only has one side of the face and asking them to complete the other half. You can either find a picture online or, if you are tech-savvy, scan and edit a photo of the student. If you have Photoshop, you can simply erase one side of the face, print it out and make photocopies for each student. If you don’t have access to photo editing software, print out the photo, cut in half vertically, place on a blank piece of paper, and make as many photocopies as you need.
The goal of this activity is to help students analyze the geometric attributes and congruence of the face. An added bonus is that it also forces them to use their spatial sense to identify and recreate the symmetrically-balanced features that are missing. Once they are finished, you’ll find another teachable moment by asking students to consider issues of symmetry, proportion, measurement and perspective.
Symmetrical, congruent, balance, bilateral
Activity 2: Polygon Portraits
This is another activity that uses the human face. This time, however, students will use geometry to compare the attributes of two-dimensional shapes; they will also have to see how those shapes can be taken apart and realigned to create new shapes.
Curved, straight, edge, polygon, regular, irregular, congruent, vertex, vertices, angle, plane
Here’s what you do:
- Define and compile a list of polygon shapes by drawing them out on the board. As you do this, have your students describe the attributes of each shape.
- To supplement this activity, you might show your students pictures of Pablo Picasso’s cubist portraits. Compare his work to more conventional portraits and have your students talk about the similarities and differences between the two. Ask them what the like/dislike about Picasso’s work and why.
- Next, hand out mirrors to each student and have them draw self-portraits in either black charcoal or pencil using only polygons.
- Once they’ve done this, have your students describe their portraits using their newly acquired vocabulary.
- There are innumerable spins you could put on this activity. For instance, you could limit the number of shapes your students can use—or you could require that each shape be a different color of pastel, charcoal or colored pencil. If you prefer, you could also have your students cut these shapes out of construction paper instead of drawing them.
- If you want to challenge your students, ask them to use a set amount of polygons. For example, tell them that they have to use six triangles, 4 decagons, 5 octagons, 2 quadrilaterals, etc.
If you like these lesson-plan ideas, check out Caren Holtzman and Lynn Susholtz’ book Object Lessons: Teaching Math through Visual Arts; this is only the tip of the iceberg.