I was a multiple subject teacher for nearly twenty years before becoming an elementary art teacher. When I moved to the art room, I decided to do a full year of math and art connected concepts. I was delighted to have additional time to cover symmetry, an abstract concept for many students, and develop concrete opportunities for experimentation. I opened up my supply closet and pulled out painter’s tape for students to use as the line of symmetry and manipulatives of all kinds that I used to create stations.
Our symmetry exploration led us to Cambodian inspired mask-making.Left: Students used pegs and rubber bands at the geoboard station. Right: Students approached this LEGO wall in pairs, adding to our school-wide collaborative design.Sidewalk symmetry during distance learning.
The concept of symmetry was included in our math standards but was conceptually very difficult for students who would often create a copy of a given shape instead of its reflection. I also felt constrained by time and materials to give this concept the concrete practice it required.
Hands-On Concept Development
When I moved to the art room, I decided to do a full year of math and art connected concepts. I was delighted to have additional time to cover symmetry, an abstract concept for many students, and develop concrete opportunities for experimentation. I opened up my supply closet and pulled out painter’s tape for students to use as the line of symmetry and manipulatives of all kinds that I used to create the following stations:
LEGOs: Students worked with a partner to match each other’s additions to a LEGO base plate on either side of the taped line of symmetry.
Felt boards: Our felt boards fold in the middle, which gave students an opportunity to check their own understanding that their design was symmetrical.
Geoboards: Geoboards invited students to create symmetrical designs that crossed over the taped line of symmetry.
Foam blocks: This station created the opportunity to discuss how shapes without a duplicate can be used in a symmetrical design.
Pattern blocks: This station worked well as a formative assessment for me to check in with student understanding.
Lincoln Logs/Jenga pieces: At this station, students experimented with architectural symmetry.
Magnets: The bold colors and shapes of the magnets help students to recognize symmetry or asymmetry.
Light-Up Symmetry Stations
We then created four additional symmetry stations with light-up manipulatives: lightboard pattern blocks, light-up LEGOs, Lite-Brite, and shadow box theater. Manipulatives are motivating because changes and corrections can be made without frustration. This type of highly motivating tactile learning was helpful in approaching a concept that can be challenging.
Symmetry in Quarantine
We were finishing up our study of symmetry and transitioning to using our symmetry knowledge with portraits and masks when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Like educators worldwide, I was jolted into online teaching and left wondering what to do and where to start.
After a period of trying to make sure everyone had a device, access to wi-fi, and the ability to log in to Google Classroom, it was time for content. With all the upheaval and uncertainty, I needed to reach my students with a familiar conversation. Students needed to see my face and hear my voice in some kind of predictable way. I decided we needed to talk symmetry.
We engaged in a variety of symmetry projects online, from sidewalk symmetry and domino setups to portraits and more. I know that the work we put in to build confidence in our understanding of reflectional symmetry in the art room helped us to get through the precarious new circumstances of distance learning.
Nica Operchuck Rumion is an art teacher at Stevenson Elementary School in Long Beach, California. NRumion@LBSchools.net
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
Art teachers share lessons that focus on student choice and Teaching for Artistic Behavior. Students use an everyday material to express their ideas in 2D and 3D form, experiment with digital drawing apps to alter self-portrait images through collage, engage in discussions about race and identity during a color-mixing exploration, participate in hands-on learning stations to investigate symmetry, and more.