Friday, 27 June 2014

Learning maths through art

Tiles from Iran, c.1250 - 1300

After leaving Reception at school and moving up into Year One, Charlie would often complain that they didn't do much art anymore. This became more pronounced as he moved on up the school and I presume this was because the demands of the National Curriculum didn''t leave much time for the teachers to teach anything else. 

At the moment, Charlie says he wants to be an architect when he grows up, which means learning the skills of drawing will be very useful to him. But, of course, ambitions change rapidly as we mature and learn more about ourselves and the world we live in, so he may well end up as something else entirely. His desire to do art, however, seems perfectly sensible. He is simply asking to be allowed to do something which has been natural for human beings for as far back as we can know: the oldest known prehistoric art is the series of Stone Age petroglyphs discovered in two ancient caves in India and is estimated as dating from 290,000BCE.

Art fosters creativity and imagination, encourages self expression and helps with observation, spatial awareness and physical acuity, such as hand-eye co-ordination. Charlie struggles with tidy handwriting and practising his fine-motor skills can only be helpful.

In addition, studying art can lead into many other topics - which is why, this week, we have found ourselves learning about tessellation ('to tessellate: to decorate (a floor or pavement) with mosaics; to cover (a plane surface) by repeated use of a single shape, without gaps or overlapping', OED). 

On Monday, Charlie chose a project from the Usborne Art Treasury which involved replicating Iranian tiles created in the Middle Ages. These tiles form a perfect pattern of stars and crosses which fit together without any gaps. The tiles shown in the photo above were made to decorate a room in a palace, but other tiles were used to decorate religious buildings.

We cut three identical squares of cardboard and overlapped them to make a star

Charlie cut out the shape of a cross

The cut-out cross

He placed the cross and star shapes onto paper and drew round them.

The really fun bit: decorating them
The first tile
Charlie used acrylic paints to decorate the tiles. Once the paintings had dried, he mixed PVA glue with silver glitter and painted it all over the surface to form a glaze. This replicated the glass-based glazes that gave the genuine Iranian tiles their glittery look.

Our tessellated tiles, now decorating Charlie's bedroom wall

One morning, we watched this introduction to tessellation.

There are several more videos on the BBC website on this subject, but we particularly enjoyed the one on shapes in the natural world.  

Charlie remembered the five-sided shape of the Pentagon in the USA, so we had a look at the photo online and read about why the building was built in such an unusual shape (it fitted the plot!).

After that, Charlie had a go at working out which shapes would tessellate.

Then he spent some time colouring in some tessellated shapes downloaded from

Earlier this week, Charlie continued working on ConquerMaths because he really wanted to earn his gold certificate. He was very proud when he achieved it. This means he has progressed from Bronze (68%) to Gold (95%) in two weeks. Yesterday, he managed to achieve his Platinum certificate, which means he'd scored 100% in all his Maths tests.

Charlie hated Maths at school. But in the past few days, he has been doing Maths without even noticing it - and enjoying it.

This morning, he played in the polygon playground on mathcats and created this:

I pointed out that some of the shapes fitted together neatly and he said, patiently, "They're tessellated, Mum." 


  1. LOL at his tessellation comment! We absolutely love this kind of maths. We've done several fun tessellation activities but I haven't seen some of the resources you've linked - thank you!

  2. Tessellation is fun isn't it? I completely agree with your comments about the importance of art - it is very close to my heart. We draw, create, make and do as to enhance all the subjects we learn about. I've written a number of posts about creativity and learning previously so I won't continue here - I wouldn't stop!

    Thank you so much for linking up to this weeks #homeedlinkup

  3. Fantastic. It's lovely to hear how you've used art to awaken a love of maths in your son.
    Those tiles are stunning!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks for the lovely comments!

      Mum: in mathematics, a plane is a flat, two-dimensional surface. I don't think the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) would get that wrong!