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Without Math, Art Loses Its Shape!

Renee's TPT Store
We end January with my last guest blogger, Renee Goularte.  (Notice that art is part of her last name.)  She is a retired elementary school teacher/art educator, a working artist, and a writer. Her professional teaching career began in San Jose, CA in 1988 in a third grade classroom. She soon moved to a 2/3 combination class and then spent four years teaching in a Multi-age 1-2-3 program, which she started with a colleague. Renee has also taught a 4/5 combination class in addition to Kindergarten, and has worked specifically with GATE students, ELL students, and at-risk students. Before she retired in 2010, she taught art to Kindergarten, and first and second graders. For her, teaching art has come full circle.  In addition to her work in the classroom, Renee has written articles on teaching, written lessons professionally, maintained a number of websites and blogs, and facilitated math, language, and art workshops for teachers and parents. She also has a Teachers Pay Teachers store where she offers many creative products.  Click under her picture to go there.

Like myself, Renee believes in hands-on, active learning that touches all learning styles. From a personal experience, she knows visual literacy is an important component of the curriculum, and that creativity can be fostered and nurtured.

In many of the art lessons I teach, I use math, especially math vocabulary. Sometimes this is incorporated when having students look at famous art works, especially (and most obviously) some abstract art, but also (and less obvious) art that is more representational. When I ask students to tell me what they notice in works by Wasily, Kandinsky or Pablo Picasso, many of the responses include basic math vocabulary (square, triangle, line), but those responses might also include vocabulary that is more specific, words like acute, obtuse, parallelogram or isosceles.

Many of the lessons I teach to young children (I work mostly with primary-aged children) include the creation, manipulation, and use of different kinds of shapes and lines, whether they are drawing, painting, or making collages. When appropriate, I like to remind the students that they are “doing math” as well as “making art”.


Here are a few of my favorite art-making activities with math connections.

Geometric Shape Collage

This is an activity that I have done with elementary students of all ages. For younger students, the directions are more general and fewer shapes are used. For older students, the directions and requirements are more specific and complex. For example, younger students are asked to use one circle, two lines, three triangles, and four colors (for a little problem solving challenge), while older students are asked to use one circle, two lines, three non-congruent triangles, four different quadrilaterals, and five colors. Directions can be altered to include geometry vocabulary as desired, and there are many ways to extend the art lesson to incorporate more mathematics. For example, one can ask younger students to do a rubbing of their design and label all the shapes, or have the  older students calculate combined areas of the quadrilaterals and find the ratio of that area to the total area.

Geometric People

One of my standard lessons with second grade students, these figures are created entirely from geometric shapes (mostly rectangles). The lesson includes a discussion about our joints, some attention to human body proportion, length and width, and the depiction of movement. When I have time, I begin with an introduction to the art of Keith Haring and a movement activity that requires students to arrange their bodies in different poses.

Kandinsky-Inspired Abstract Design

This is one of my favorite “no prep needed” art activities for incorporating math vocabulary and most of the elements of design. All you need is white paper, assorted colored markers, and crayons. It is adapted from an activity in the book “Drawing With Children” by Mona Brooks. I usually have students look at a Kandinsky print and tell me what they notice. Invariably, math vocabulary bubbles up: acute angles, triangles, parallel lines, etc. Then I lead them through the drawing by having them draw one thing at a time: three dots anywhere, one line that goes off the edge of the paper, another line parallel to the first, a third line that intersects the first two, etc. I have some standard directions for this activity that get varied now and then, according to what students are coming up with. No matter what, the directions use lots of math vocabulary. They are asked to color it however they choose, using only one color per closed shape and leaving part of the composition white. Later, they write about their art work, comparing it to Kandinsky’s work. These are always successful, colorful, and interesting!

 Symmetrical Cityscapes

This is an easy, fun art activity that connects to mathematics with its focus on symmetry, proportion, and a little work with geometric shapes. It gives students the opportunity to be creative while applying their knowledge of bilateral symmetry. I like to use construction paper crayons on black paper, but I’ve also used regular crayons on white paper. An even more artistic version of this lesson has students do a watercolor wash for a sky, onto which the cut out skyline is glued. Students love this art lesson, and it is inherently successful; even if mistakes are made in the symmetry, the end results are always beautiful.

There is no doubt artists use math all the time when creating art. Sometimes that math is obvious in the subject matter, and sometimes it is more subtle in the composition, but it’s nearly always present. To teachers who insist that there is no time for art, I say “think math” and you can kill two birds with one stone!

All the art lessons described here are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store where you will find lessons and lesson bundles such as Playing With Shapes, Art With Symmetry, Art With Patterns, Exploring Lines and Shapes, GeomARTry, and much more!  I also share many art ideas on my blog entitled: Creating Art With Kids.  I hope you will check it out.


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