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Mondrian Inspired Art

Students will make Mondrian art

Cycle Type

  Contextualized Math

This is the Contextualized Math cycle type. Cycle types used to organize cycles by categories.

Maker Mindset

During maker projects, participating productively as part of a group generally leads to better and more robust work. Pooling and building on each other’s ideas creates better maker designs and products. Likewise, solving mathematics problems or building a mathematical model is a creative process that benefits from collaboratively generating and/or vetting ideas and working together.

Maker tasks encourage trying out design ideas early to see if they are feasible. If they work, they are revised and improved upon. If they don’t, they are replaced by new ideas quickly without losing too much time pursuing dead-ends. This habit of mind also applies to mathematics. While solving math problems, students should test their ideas early. Will an idea lead to answers that is reasonable rather than too big or too small? If we are writing a general expression or equation, does it work for small cases? Can we tell without solving if a solution will be positive or negative?

CC Standards

3.MD5.a&b, 3MD.6, 3.MD7.a&b, 3.MD7.c, 3.OA7, 3.MD7.d, 3.MD.8

You can find descriptions of all common core math standards at Common Core Math Standards

Student will complete the Mondrian Inspired Art Challenge and engage in substantive experiences with multiplication and geometric measurement.  Through the challenge and the follow on lessons, the mathematical purpose is to develop deep foundational understandings of area — square units, covering a plane, (3.MD5.a&b) counting units, (3MD.6), relating area to addition and multiplication (3.MD7.a&b), use the area model to represent the distributive property (3.MD7c, 3.OA7), recognizing area as additive and using it to solve real world problems (3.MD7.d) and distinguishing between linear and area units of measure (3.MD.8). 

Building a maker mindset (link) 

This cycle would be best after students have had initial experiences with multiplication, but they do not need to be proficient with the facts.  (Fluently multiplying within 100 the year end expectation, 3.OA5).  

Students will collaboratively create a painting inspired by Piet Mondrian, while studying multiplication and geometric measurement.  Each project will will be completed on grid paper, up to 18” x 28”, and will have specific mathematical constraints, but all will be unique works of art. As part of the challenge, students will analyze their art mathematically — building spatial reasoning (e.g., simultaneously visualizing rows and columns in a rectangular array) and foundational geometric measurement concepts (e.g., using rows/columns to determine the area of a rectangle through repeated addition or skip counting; conservation of area, awareness that area is additive) and more advanced geometric measurement and multiplication concepts (multiplying length and width to find the area of a rectangle, using the distributive property in an area context).  Students will also have substantive opportunities to practice their basic multiplication and addition skills throughout the challenge cycle.  

Students first cut their sheet to the size they like, within given parameters.  Then, they determine the area of their work in square inches. They tape their perimeter and determine the length of tape needed in inches.  After a brief whole class discussion of strategies and the difference between linear measurement units and area measurement units, students begin to plan to create their art by pre-determining a few characteristics of their piece, including which colors will fill up the most and least area in their piece.  An aesthetic challenge is to design their project so not all line segments go edge to edge on the paper. Students can scout to see how classmates address this challenge. They sketch their draft, indicating which colors go where, then determine the area of each of the rectangles in their project. Students then compute the sum of areas of each color. And then sum of the color totals.  This total should be equal to the area of their project. If not, they need to work to find their discrepancies. A whole class discussion follows to discuss strategies, as well as emphasizing concepts including conservation of area. Strategies include “shortcuts in adding”. For example, if you have three 3x5 rectangles, you could think about that as (3x3) x 5 which is the associative property.   Or, if you had 3x5 and 4x5, you could think of that as (3+4) x 5 which leverages the distributive property. Emphasizing that these shortcuts are useful and algebraic thinking supports students growth.  

Once all the mathematics work is analyzed, students paint their work.  Finally, they tape their work, using ½” tape on the border lines. A final math exploration is to determine the length of tape required for each project.  

Prior Experience:

This cycle would be best after students have had initial experiences with multiplication, but they do not need to be proficient with the facts. (Fluently multiplying within 100 the year end expectation, 3.OA5).

Materials Required For This Cycle
When UsedMaterialQuantity
Warm up 1 sheet per person
Task 1, 2, 4Recording Sheet1 per pair (see below)
Tasks 1-5Large piece of 1" grid paper

1 piece per pair, pre-cut to approximately desk-sized 

Best source for paper is butcher paper role of grid paper.  For example: Pacon Paper sells a 200’ roll of 1” grid paper, which is sufficient for 3 classes.   UPC 029444778108

Tasks 1, 2, 4, 5Scratch paperAccess to as much as needed
Task 1 and 5Scissors1 of each per pair
Tasks 1-5 Pencils and straight edges 
Task 3Tempera Paint in White, Red, Yellow, Blue, and BlackApprox. 2 bottles of each per class
Task 3Paint BrushesBroad stiff brushes - 1 per person
Task 3 Jar of water for brush rinsing and paper towels for blotting1 per pair
Task 31-2 oz portion cups5-6 per pair for distributing tempera paint.  (6 is if you want your student to be able to mix grey paint to use in their work.)
Task 4 1/2" Black tape1 roll per pair:  E.g.,
Task 1-5 CalculatorOptional: maybe be useful to expedite computation at teachers discretion at any stage of the challengee


Credits and Sources: 

Gena Richman, 2nd/3rd Grade teacher Mary Collins School, Petaluma City School District 

Richman, G. (2007). Mathematics through Art, CMC ComMuniCator, California Mathematics Council.