The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

What's in a Name?

Fourth grade art students are exploring the connections between art and math by using their names and both radial and bilateral symmetry to create colorful and intricate designs. 

Building on their previous knowledge of symmetry, geometric shapes, origami folds, lettering, and color theory, students also incorporated the fall term focus on identity by using their names as the theme of their designs. Before starting the project, art teacher Jane McGinty showed her students examples of geometry and repeating patterns in Islamic tile designs, and medieval rose windows such as Notre Dame. Students also looked at examples of bilateral symmetry found in nature, such as butterflies, and they investigated the radial symmetry found in starfish and snowflakes.

Recalling their third grade lessons in origami, students started by folding a square piece of paper several times over again while maintaining a central radial point. Next, they unfolded the paper and sketched their names in three-dimensional letters on one segment of the eight radial points, and then they sketched its mirror image on the facing segment in bilateral symmetry. As they wrote out their names, they had to measure to ensure that each letter was evenly spaced and would utilize the whole triangle. Students traced the triangle portion of their name around the radius, transforming their names into a unique radial design. Longer names often get abbreviated into easy nicknames in real life, but for this project, the more complex names created the most intricate designs. “Some of the kids have very long names, and those designs are absolutely beautiful!” says Jane. 

How the students chose to color their designs also varied widely. “We talked about using positive and negative space, we reexamined the color wheel for cool and warm palettes, and we discussed how some colors come forward while others recede,” says Jane.

This relatively simple project will lay the groundwork for increasingly complex projects that will also incorporate mathematical concepts into their art. Students will refer back to geometry concepts when they start working with parabolic lines and then later with tessellations.
“These projects look hard," Jane says, "and students often start by saying that they can’t make it--but when they do, they are so amazed by what they create!”