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Using Art to Teach Math: Cross Curricular Activities

By Pamela Martin

Make effective use of classroom time, create relevant math experiences, and have some fun with these cross curricular activities for art and math.

Mixing Art and Math

Using cross curricula strategies can be a great way to help students learn difficult subjects. These activities help students see the relevance of math concepts while practicing them in a meaningful way. Additionally, the projects are much more fun than traditional “drill and kill” activities.


Objectives: Students will recognize and name geometric shapes.

Students will apply knowledge of geometric shapes to art design.

Learning Plan: Even very young children can use shapes to copy templates or create their own pictures. Give pre-readers a tangram template and matching construction paper shapes. Students place the paper shapes in the correct spaces on the drawing, naming each shape as they glue them down.

Older students may be challenged to create designs of their own from a list of how many of which shapes to use. They make the shapes in whatever sizes they choose and combine them to make a creative picture.

Other shape applications include making animals from a collection of shape pieces. For a new take on an old idea, use scrapbooking or origami paper for the shapes in place of construction paper.

Illustrated Problems

Enhance your cross curricular lesson for art and math by adding a writing element as well.

Objectives: Students will recognize a one-to-one correspondence between drawings and numbers in equations.

Students will write story problems to match equations, practicing basic operations facts.

Learning Plan: Assign a list of equations to each student. For each math sentence, students should write a word problem to match. After that, students illustrate the problem. Encourage students to be creative with both their writing and their pictures, using unusual subjects for the numbers or a variety of media for the illustrations. Options might include stamp pads, buttons, sticks, or bead, along with crayon or marker drawings.

Assessment: Ask students to exchange problems with a neighbor and solve them.

Symmetrical Design

Objectives: Students will recognize symmetry as a mirror image.

Learning Plan: Other lessons for art and math involve symmetry and rotation. Again, younger students may create very simple designs, while older students work with patterns that are more complex.

Provide students with a large sheet of paper for the base of their design. Students fold the paper in half and draw one side of the design (butterfly, heart, etc.). The students then cut out the design. Using the fold line as the center point, students make designs on the shape so that both sides are symmetrical. Designs may be simple crayon patterns, or students may use stickers, cutouts, stamps, or other embellishments to create the same pattern on each side of the shape.

Older children get some practice with both symmetry and rotation with name reflections. Again, students fold a piece of paper in half; they then write their name in “fat” letters, with each touching both the letters on each side and the fold line. Students then cut out their name and open the folded design. After gluing the mirror image to a background paper, students further embellish the design with pictures or words that identify and describe themselves.

Fact Families

Make practicing addition and subtraction more fun with a cross curricular lesson for art and math that incorporates the fact families.

Students draw large numerals of the family “name” and write the relevant equations on the numeral (2+1=3, 1+2=3, 3-1=2, 3-2=1). They then illustrate each fact sentence.

You can expand this activity to include recognizing and designing patterns if students create a border around the numeral before adding the equations. Using geometric shapes as the pattern elements also reinforces the names and qualities of each shape.

Let these cross curricular lessons for art and math ideas inspire you to mix a little math and art of your own.