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Math Reflections | Arts & Activities
Sep 2015

Math Reflections

Math Reflections

Math and art go hand in hand. When we create collages, we often divide the paper in half. Shapes are generally used in art, and are either geometric or organic, and we often estimate size relationships. What we create has symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial balance. The list goes on.

In this art lesson, which takes two 45-min. classes, second-graders become “architects,” and use math to  design buildings and create cityscapes. They take this a step further by adding reflections. To do this, they measure their buildings and paint the same-sized shapes opposite.

To begin, I tell the children that building design is called “architecture,” and people who design buildings are “architects.” We then discuss the coolest buildings we’ve seen and what makes them so interesting.

As we view buildings found on the Internet, I ask students to take note of the geometric shapes used in their design, and how each building has large, medium and small shapes. We agree it is this variety of sizes that make the buildings more interesting.

Looking at the shapes on the buildings’ details, we discuss some principles of design—variety, pattern and unity—and how they are used in architecture.

We then view pictures of river- and lakeshore buildings with reflections in the water. The children look carefully at the reflections and describe what they see, and learn art that features a view of tall buildings lined up next to each other on a street is called a “cityscape.”


From left to right, artwork by Cody, Sophie and Sara

Starting the project, we first work on the “architecture.” Each student receives a piece of 9″ x 12″ color construction paper, which they divide into four equal pieces. To do this, the children fold the paper in half and cut on the fold. Then they fold the resulting two pieces in half, and cut them on the fold. This results in four 3″ x 4″ pieces of the same color paper. The children then swap papers with everyone at their tables until each child has four different colors.

I then pass out 7″ x 12″ white paper, which students fold in half. They begin creating their architecture for the main structure of their buildings by cutting a variety of large shapes from the colored paper. These are then glued to the white paper with their bases aligning with the fold.

Students then start adding medium shapes to each building, making them taller. Smaller shapes are added on top of these, and tiny shapes are added as details. Using contrasting colors makes the details stand out. Painted papers or scrapbook paper can be used, if available, for extra awesomeness.

The next art class, we bring out the rulers and put our “math hats” on. First, I demonstrate how to measure each building; this can be a struggle for some students, so I keep verbally reinforcing what great artistic mathematicians they are! Using a pencil, students lightly mark the height of their buildings on the opposite side of the fold, where the reflection will be. Be sure the children understand that a reflection is a mirror image, not the same image stacked on top of the other.


From left to right, artwork by Wylder and Kaylie

Once all the buildings’ reflections are marked in pencil, the children apply tempera paint to reflect the color of the buildings on the water. Students use paint colors for the windows, doors and other details in the reflection that match those features of their paper buildings.

The paint needs to be thick enough for students to drag the tip of their brush handles through the painted reflections, creating the look of water ripples and currents. They should skip around and drag the handle, moving it left and right. Very thin white lines may also be painted on horizontally to also resemble ripples in the water. In the final step, students paint the sky and some of its reflection in the water.

Everyone has so much fun using rulers in art. It’s challenging at first, but using the rulers to actually recreate their paper buildings makes it worth it. Connecting math with art helps students see how math is used in our everyday lives.

For closure and assessment, you could have each student discuss with their neighbor (or in small groups or teams) how math was used in their art. Also have them express how they created a reflection of their architecture.

Elementary students will …
• identify and use geometric shapes to create architecture.
• use the elements of art and principles of design to communicate ideas.
• create art that reflects knowledge of measuring architecture for reflections.
• identify connections between visual art and math by using rulers.

• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

• Images of architecture, cityscapes and reflections of buildings in water
• 7″ x 12″ white paper
• 9″ x 12″ construction paper in a variety of colors
• Variety of scrapbook paper or painted papers from previous projects (optional)
• Scissors, glue
• Tempera or watercolor paint, paintbrushes, water buckets

Sally Miller is an art educator at R.C. Lipscomb Elementary in Pensacola, Fla., and an art-education instructor at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.



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