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Radial Symmetry with Japanese Notan: 5th Grade Lesson

By Ashley A. Fournier

Interpret an ‘I Can Statement’ from the Common Core State Standards in an artistic fashion to entice the fifth graders into creating a Japanese inspired Notan.

Students will be introduced to a math integrated art lesson that also touches on Japanese art history. Art educators can easily infuse math terms and concepts into an age old lesson with fifth grade students.

Lesson Objectives:

Learning Radial Symmetry, Bilateral Symmetry

Learning Japanese Art History

Common Core objective: CCSS (5.NBT.6, SL.5.1, L.5.6)

Materials Required:

Lesson Procedure:

Nōtan is a Japanese design concept involving the play and placement of light and dark as they are placed next to the other in art and imagery.

1. Students are introduced step by step how to do the lesson through a teacher led example. It is important for students to simply watch the steps first, then complete the lesson as it can be confusing for students to understand the process. The directions are also clearly labeled and illustrated in the handout.

2. Students are to fold the paper in half.

3. They are then to fold the square in half again making fourths.

4. The students are to open the paper back up so they have that crease in the middle of their rectangle showing.

5. They will then cut a ‘mountain’ in their rectangle on the open or mouth side of the paper, (this piece is crucial as it will not work if they cut into the fold). They also have to take care to start the cut on one side of the paper and end it on the same side.

6. Students will then make sure to save every piece of paper and will then open the largest piece into an ‘I’ shape, and will refold it the opposite way. Students will then cut another mountain into the remainder of the shape following the same instructions as step five. It is helpful to cut this one in more of a bumpy fashion in order to tell the pieces apart.

7. Glue the ‘X’ like shape down on to the background sheet of paper.

8. Place the other pieces like a puzzle but don’t glue them down.

9. Pick one piece and mimic the same cut as before, lay the pieces back down where they belong, but flip the bigger of the two out to create a mirror reflection.

10. Do the same for the remaining three pieces, and explain that it is bilateral symmetry. If we had cut all four shapes the same the students would have radial symmetry.


Notan 1Notan 2Notan 3

Math and art lend themselves to one another very easily in this lesson. Common Core State Standards can easily be tied into the piece if you use the artwork as a tool. The Common Core Strand Numbers and Operations in Base Ten (5.NBT.B.6) asks students to illustrate and explain calculations by using equations, rectangular arrays, and area models. Students can use this art lesson as a means to show their understanding of the CCSS in an alternative classroom through an interesting medium.

In the past students have taken this lesson to a new level through layering one notan on top of another; they’ve also cut multiple layers out of each piece so that there are many pieces to the overall notan. Students can take the art concepts even further in depth by adding a collage piece to the artwork through various background materials to layer the notan on top of.