Art teacher Melinda Nguyen spent mornings at her former school, Nesbit Elementary in Tucker, Georgia, assisting in a math extension program called Mighty Minds. As part of the program, she worked with a second-grade teacher to explain “make 10” addition, but the students weren’t grasping the concept. So Nguyen decided to try something different. She guided the students in creating mosaics, which required an understanding of make 10 addition. The lesson stuck.

Arts-integrated lessons can elucidate abstract concepts, create memorable visuals, and help bridge the divide between classroom lessons and real-world applications. And, as Hudson, New Hampshire, first-grade teacher Sarah Jacobson notes, these projects can stimulate kinesthetic learning by giving students something to “touch and manipulate.” To help bring the arts into your classroom, here are eight math crafts designed to teach everything from multiplication to radial symmetry.

Make a Mosaic

Submitted by: Melinda Nguyen, K–5 art, Baggett Elementary, Lawrenceville, Georgia. Blogger at Art with Mrs. Nguyen.

Materials: Playing cards, 1" x 1" pieces of construction paper in assorted colors, glue, hundreds chart

When to Use It: Nguyen designed this activity to teach make 10 addition to a struggling second-grade class. It makes the concept “concrete, visual, and fun,” says Nguyen.

Directions: “Have each student draw a card from a modified deck, jacks, queens, and kings removed,” says Nguyen. “The number drawn will be the number they write for the first addend in their first blank math sentence. Students select paper squares in one color to represent the number, and glue the appropriate number of squares onto the first row of the chart. Then, students have to figure out how many more squares they will need to complete the row of 10.” Once they do, have kids list that number as the second addend and select a new color of squares to complete the row. Repeat for all 10 rows, encouraging kids to make creative patterns by mixing up the order of the colors. Notes Nguyen, “Regardless of the order, the sum will be the same!”

Multiplication City

Submitted by: Anne Marie Chevalier, Grades 1–2, Saint Gabriel Catholic Elementary School, Cambridge, Ontario. Blogger at Elementary AMC.

Materials: Black or blue construction paper (9" x 12"), yellow construction paper (8.5" x 11"), paper in assorted colors, glue

When to Use It: Use this project to teach students how to use arrays to show multiplication concepts.

Directions: Inspired by Marilyn Burns’s book Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream, in which Amanda finds arrays to count throughout her town, Chevalier begins the lesson by guiding students on a school tour to spot multiplication arrays before inviting them to create their own cities made out of arrays. Students then cut out rectangles and glue them to their background paper to create a skyline. They use yellow paper to cut out windows and glue those to their building in arrays. Next, students swap drawings with a classmate and solve the multiplication arrays in each picture. For an added touch, create extra arrays of stars or snowflakes in the sky.

Colonial Count

Submitted by: Stephanie Moorman, Grade 5, Los Angeles. Blogger at Teaching in Room 6.

Materials: 20" x 20" sheets of 1"-square graph paper, crayons, laminate, duct tape, recording sheet

When to Use It: “For this lesson, I tried to combine the math standards we were learning at the time (fractions and percentages) and some past standards (polygons, perimeter, area, symmetry) with our social studies unit of Colonial America,” says Moorman.

Directions: “The students read documents relating to Colonial and early American quilt design, then created their own geometric designs using combinations of three to five colors,” says Moorman, who requested that each design contain at least one complete rectangle. Once the squares were complete, Moorman laminated them and connected each square with duct tape to create a quilt. She then invited students to calculate the fraction and percentage of each color represented on their quilt square, as well as the perimeter and area of various sections of the square. For an added challenge, repeat these calculations for the quilt as a whole.

Flying Fact Families

Submitted by: Kelley Dolling, Grade 1, Antelope Elementary School, Red Bluff, California. Blogger at Teacher Idea Factory.

Materials: 20" x 20" sheets of 1"-square graph paper, crayons, laminate, duct tape, recording templates (available here)

When to Use It: Introduce fact families to your budding mathematicians with the help of a friendly face.

Directions: Before class, photocopy the equation templates onto colored paper and print enough sets for each child to receive four. Then, give each student four circles, two eyes, a strip of colored paper (approxi-mately 8.5" x 1.5"), and a sheet of colored paper. Guide kids in creating wings by folding the paper into fourths and using scissors to round off the corners while holding the fold. Next, assign students fact families and ask them to write their numbers on the colorful strip, attach eyes to the top of the strip, and glue this to the center of their butterfly. (Add antennae and a smile for a fun touch.) Kids complete their butterflies by writing a different equation created by their fact family in each circle and gluing the circles to the wings.

Greater Gator

Submitted by: Sarah Jacobson, Grade 1, Dr. H. O. Smith School, Hudson, New Hampshire. Blogger at A Sunny Day in First Grade.

Materials: Green and white construction paper, scissors, glue, black markers

When to Use It: Introduce fact families to your budding mathematicians with the help of a symbols go,” says Jacobson. “The visual of the alligator munching the bigger number really helps the kids see and understand.”

Directions: First, cut two green rectangles and glue them in a V-shape to form the head. Then, create teeth by cutting two white rectangles and snipping a zig-zag pattern on one of the long sides of each rectangle. Complete your alligator by cutting out white circles for eyes, adding pupils with a black marker, and glue one on either side of the alligator’s head. Finally, write “greater than” on one side and “less than” on the other. Complete the activity by passing your gators out to students and allowing your class to use them when working in small groups or at the board. “It gives them something to touch and manipulate,” says Jacobson.

Super Symmetry

Submitted by: Hannah Mazzuto, art teacher, West Valley Central School District, New York. Blogger at Art. Paper. Scissors. Glue!

Materials: Construction paper in black (18" x 18") and assorted colors (5" x 5"), glue

When to Use It: This three-dimensional art project uses origami to teach radial symmetry, or symmetry based around a central axis.

Directions: Start by asking students to fold their background paper in half both horizontally and vertically to create creases. Repeat on the diagonals. These fold lines, which will form eight triangles, serve as a guide for creating symmetrical designs. Then, teach students four simple folds traditionally used in origami designs. (Mazzuto used beginners’ favorites, such as the kite design.) Armed with their new techniques, students choose colors and types of folds, create the pieces they need for their designs, and arrange them in a radially symmetrical pattern. Once the designs are complete, if you divide the background paper in half in any direction, it should be identical on either side (including the colors). Extend the activity by finding examples of radial symmetry in nature.

Multiplied by Klee

Submitted by: Aimee Fresia, K–6 art, Prairie View Elementary, Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Blogger at One Happy Art Teacher. (Original idea from former teacher Mary Franco.)

Materials: Paul Klee’s Once Emerged from the Gray of Night, 1"-square graph paper, colored construction paper and pencils, scissors, glue

When to Use It: Play off the geometric style of artist Paul Klee to reinforce multiplication facts.

Directions: Show students Klee’s painting. Give them a sheet of 1"-square graph paper and have them select a multiplication fact they’re struggling with (such as 6 x 8 = 48). Students fill in each square with a number or symbol from their equation so that each number/symbol touches the edges of the box. On the top line, start equations all the way to the left. For each of the next three rows, move the equation one square right. For the final three rows, move each equation one square back to the left to create a translation tessellation, or mosaic. Fill in the negative spaces in each box with a color or pattern so that like numbers and symbols match. Then, cut out your tessellations.

Fraction Fish

Submitted by: Amy Ubele Brown, K–5 art, Hemenway Elementary School, Framing-ham, Massachusetts. Blogger at Mrs. Brown’s Art Class.

Materials: Construction paper in assorted colors, circles to trace, scissors, pencils, glue

When to Use It: “Students learn about math and fractions, as well as cutting skills and composition, when designing their undersea world,” says Brown.

Directions: Pass out supplies before inviting students to trace and cut out multiple circles of the same size on different colors of paper. Then, have students fold circles into fractions of their choosing and cut out the pieces their folding creates. (For example, folding quarters will yield four triangles.) Kids can use the pieces to design an underwater scene. “By creating the fractions themselves, they are able to see how two halves make a whole,” says Brown. “The students were excited about making tiny fractions, comparing an eighth to a sixteenth!”

Images: Adam Chinitz