MathMagic Land

MathMagic Land

On my first day at the NAEA convention in the Big Apple I attended a lecture by teacher and contributing editor Rebecca Arkenberg, titled An Art Teacher in Mathmagic Land, which explored connections from ancient to modern times and from around the world, based on our shared language and visualization strategies. The words math and magic jumped off the page immediately, the rest I read in the cab on the way to the Hilton. I got to the session a few minutes late, thank you NYC traffic, but once I settled into my seat it took a few minutes to focus on Arkenberg’s lecture. I had to blow the dust off my sequential reasoning and ignore the nagging question in my head, Where are all the pictures? I looked around the room and wondered if I was the only one having trouble following the words on the screen, but everyone else had the face of perfect understanding.

Then pictures of math patterns began to appear and my focus turned razor sharp and my hearing repaired itself, the art teacher returning werewolf style. In just fifty minutes Arkenberg shared examples of Islamic art, Roman mosaic and Navajo weaving, each with its own connections to math. You can find the link to Arkenberg's session notes here.

So what’s the point? Well, a lot. In Arkenberg’s words, students who connect math to art have a better understanding of the following:

Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Model with mathematics.

Use appropriate tools strategically.

Attend to precision.

Look for and make use of structure.

Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Along with the session notes is an extensive bibliography of books on the topic of art-meets-math including Here’s looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math by Alex Bellos. Arkenberg laughed as she remembered how she impressed friends at a party with her ability to multiply like an Egyptian, a technique she learned from Bellos’ book. I've included the bibliography at the end of this post along with art-math lesson starters presented at the session.


math connection: axis, binary code, symmetry, algebra

mosaic tile

 math connection: estimating, tessellation, geometry, angles, proportion

 8 pointed star

math connection: proportion, patterns, grid

straw grid

math connection: grid, geometry, symmetry

 I found this string art on


Bellos, Alex. Here’s Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion Through the Astonishing World of Math.New York, NY: Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Bickley-Green, Cynthia Ann. “Math and Art Curriculum Integration: A Post-Modern Foundation.”Studies in Art Education, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 6-18.

Bronowski, Jacob. “Music of the Spheres” from The Ascent of Man, 13-episode documentary televisionseries. BBC and Time Life films, 1973.

Crosby, Alfred W. The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1997.

“Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land.” Walt Disney & Buena Vista, 1959.,

Gerdes, Paulus. Geometry From Africa. Washington, D.C.: The Mathematical Association ofAmerica,1999.

Islamic Art and Geometric Design: Activities for Learning. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004.

Math Forum (geometer’s sketchpad)

Norman, Jane, et al. Patterns East and West: Introduction to Pattern in Art for Teachers with Slides andMaterials. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986.

Pappas, Theoni. The Joy of Mathematics. San Carlos, CA: Wide World Publishing/Tetra, 1989.

_____. The Magic of Mathematics. San Carlos, CA: Wide World Publishing/Tetra, 1994.

Schneider, Michael S. A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes ofNature, Art, and Science, a Voyage from 1 to 10. New York: Harper, 1994.

Sinclair, Nathalie. Mathematics and Beauty: Aesthetic Approaches to Teaching Children. NY: TeachersCollege Press, 2006.

Stephens, Pam and Jim McNeill. Tessellations: The History and Making of Symmetrical Designs. CrystalProductions (800-255-8629 or

Zaslavsky, Claudia. Africa Counts. Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books, 1973, 1999. _____. Math Games & Activities from Around the World. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press, 1998._____. More Math Games & Activities. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press, 2003.

_____. Multicultural Mathematics: Interdisciplinary Cooperative-Learning Activities (Grades 6-9).Portland, Maine: J. Weston Walch, Publisher, 1987, 1993

If you have ANY good books to share on this topic please comment below.


Zentangle with founders Maria & Rick Roberts

Zentangle with founders Maria & Rick Roberts

Pieces of You: Fragmented Self Portrait

Pieces of You: Fragmented Self Portrait