Math Art Part 2: Decomposing and composing squares and triangles

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

I wanted to show you another example of math art, this time using squares and triangles. This project also falls under the standards dealing with decomposing and composing shapes. With this project, students can create some unique designs while learning about squares, triangles, symmetry, fractions, and elements of art such as color and design. It would be a great project for first grade (using 2 squares) or for higher grades using 3 to 4 squares.

A great literature connection to this project is the book “The Greedy Triangle” by Marilyn Burns. (Click link to connect to Amazon.) The triangle in this book isn’t content with being 3-sided and transforms himself into other shapes (with the help of the Shapeshifter). Lots of great pictures showing real objects in the shape of triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons, and more.

Marilyn Burns is a great math educator to check out, if you haven’t already. She has a company called Math Solutions (check out Marilyn and her consultants have wonderful resources and advocate for constructivist views regarding math education. She is also the author of Number Talks and many math and literature lesson ideas.

The 4 Triangle Investigation

Materials needed:

  • Pre-cut squares 3″, 4″ or 5″ (I used brightly colored cardstock.)
  • Scissors and glue
  • Background paper to glue shapes to


  1. Model how to cut a square in half (diagonally) to make two right triangles. (I advocate folding it first so that the two resulting triangles are as equivalent as possible.)
  2. Guide students into showing different ways to put two triangles together to form another shape. Rule: Sides touching each other must be the same length. Let students practice making these shapes on their desk top (no gluing needed). 
  3. Help students realize they may need to use these actions:
    • Slide the shape into place
    • Flip it over to get a mirror image
    • Rotate it around in a circular motion to align the edges
  4. Students are then given 2 squares (to be cut into 4 triangles) and investigate different shapes they can make following the above rule. Here are some possibilities:
  5. As the teacher,  you can decide how many creations you want each student to attempt.
  6. These shapes can be glued onto construction paper (and cut out if desired).
  7. As an extension, shapes can be sorted according to various attributes:
    • # of sides
    • symmetry
    • # of angles
    • regular polygons vs. irregular

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First Day Math & Literature Activity K- 5

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

The book, Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes is one my my all time favorite first-day-of-school stories to share with my students – no matter what grade level. The main character is Chrysanthemum, who is all excited about her first day of school until the other students start making fun of her name because it is soooo long. This makes her reluctant to go to school until everyone finds out their favorite music teacher has a long name (Delphinium) and is planning to name her new baby Chrysanthemum. A poignant story to help children develop a sense of empathy and compassion and realize that everyone’s name is special – no matter what it is or how long or short it is!

Math Connection Grades K-2

  • Letter and name recognition
  • Counting letters in names
  • Name graph with a variety of methods (paper graph, color tile or unifix cube graph, etc.)
  • Name grid art activity (see below)
  • Comparing name lengths

Math Connection Grades 3-5

  • Name graph – can use first, middle, and/or last names. To start, just have students write their name on a post-it-note and stick it on the board. Then rearrange into columns or rows according to how you are collecting your data. Or make a frequency table, line plot, percentage pie chart, etc.
  • Name grid art activity (see below). Review terms: row, column, grid, array.
  • Use some type of strategy to determine total number of letters in first names in the class (repeated addition, multiplication). Using the example graph, students could add 3 + (4 x 5) + (5 x 8), and so on. Let students think of the strategy though!
  • Determine most often and least often used letters.
  • Determine the mean, median, mode, and range using length of names.

Name grid art activity Continue reading