Transformations, Tessellations & Ceiling Tiles

By Stacey Burt on February 10, 2010

Working with transformations in geometry can be tough, even for the most precocious mathematical mind. Many times spatial reasoning is not the forte of every student. To reinforce the concept of transformations with geometric shapes, I often conduct a mini unit on tessellations.

By investigating M.C. Escher’s tessellations, students are able understand the concepts of translation, reflection, and rotation a bit better. Escher’s tessellations are quite beautiful and intriguing to examine, therefore student interest is very high.

After perusing Escher’s work, I invite my students to create their own tessellation. The initial design is created on graph paper. Students are instructed to use color and even a template if necessary. The designs range from very simplistic (basic regular polygons) to the extremely abstract (yin and yang type birds). Once I have approved their design as a tessellation, students are given a ceiling tile on which to reproduce their work of art. I purchase new tiles from a home improvement store like Lowe’s or Home Depot very cheaply and distribute them to the students…they understand they may only have one. The tiles are very fragile, so I recommend giving the students plenty of space to spread out.

I realize that this may not be an option in all classrooms or schools; however, once the tiles are placed in the ceiling, the result is stunning. I have students that come back from year to year just to make sure that their tile is still on display. Of course you will want the students to sign their work in a location where is can be seen by all (like any good artist).

Fusing math and art…nothing like it!




I love love LOVE this idea! However, quick question - you say you have kids that come back year after year to see if their tiles are still up. How do you have space for them all?

Thanks for sharing this! I cannot wait to try it with my class. :-)

Thanks Katie!

Actually, the classroom I was in in Florida was no worries for filling the ceiling with tessellations for about 8 years. The classroom I am in now will probably fill in another year or two. Maybe have the students work on tiles in pairs or groups of 3 or 4?!

All the best1


Did you have to ask for permission to take replace the tiles?

Hi Amanda-

Yes, I discussed the project with my principal first. She suggested that I store the old tiles in case there was an issue later. The tiles are so affordable, that I will probably purchase new replacements when I leave the room I currently teach in.

You could even have the students purchase their own tiles from a local home improvement store. It would probably only cost them around 4 or 5 dollars. I would suggest setting it up with the store (Home Depot or Lowes) to make sure the students all buy the same type of tiles if you decide to go with this option.



Great interdisciplinary unit. What media did you use that works on the ceiling tiles?

The students use everything from markers and crayons to paint. I generally encourage markers because they are inexpensive; however, due to the nature of the ceiling tiles, ink absorption tends to be an issue. To save money on markers, students could work in pairs.



Wow! What a spectacular idea. Classrooms are so sterile. This is a super way for students to invest in their classroom environments while learning. I can't wait to try it.

Thanks Wendee!

I hope your students enjoy the challenge as much as mine have. They return year after year to make sure their tessellation is still on "display."

Warm regards-


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