2. A cross-curricular approach

As well as encouraging pupils to see symmetry in the world around them, this topic allows pupils to be creative and make symmetrical patterns and objects. It is a good opportunity to enjoy cross-curricular work with art. These activities can be done with very young pupils, and yet be so open-ended that even the oldest pupils can still stretch themselves.

Case Study 2: Creating symmetrical butterflies

Mrs Ngugi wanted to use art to help pupils explore symmetry and had decided to spend a lesson making butterfly pictures with her pupils. She had found two pictures of butterflies, which she showed to her class. She explained how the butterfly has four wings, and how varied the size, shape and colour of these wings can be, but that the wings and their patterns are always symmetrical.

Folding a piece of paper, Mrs Ngugi showed the class how she could cut out a butterfly wing shape, open the page, and have a pair of butterfly wings. She also showed them how they could make butterfly patterns by folding paper with wet paint inside. She invited the class to make their own butterflies, imagining different shapes for the wings and different patterns. The younger pupils used paint blots to colour their butterflies, while the older pupils drew intricate symmetrical patterns.

When the butterflies were finished, Mrs Ngugi hung them from the class ceiling with string. Her pupils were excited by the display and talked about the patterns a lot.

Activity 2: Symmetrical masks

You will need enough paper and pencils or paints for each pupil to make a colourful mask, string or elastic to tie the masks on, and pieces of cardboard big enough to make the masks with. You may have to spend some time collecting these resources before you can do the activity but your pupils may be able to help you gather materials together (see Key Resource: Being a resourceful teacher in challenging circumstances [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ).

Explain to the pupils that they are going to make masks, but that both the shape of the mask and any drawing or painting on it should be symmetrical. Suggest that they do a rough design before they start working. You could show them some local masks. Perhaps they could gather resources and do a rough design in one lesson, and make the mask in the next lesson or two.

Suggest they make masks of people, leaves, animals, wings, imaginary creatures, or tribal masks. This could be a decision you leave to each pupil, or one you decide for the whole class.

Think about what resources might help the pupils design their masks (such as photos or objects – see Resource 2: Examples of symmetry in Kenyan masks). What other creative activities could pupils do to consolidate their understanding of symmetry?

1. Using group work to explore symmetry

3. Demonstrating rotational symmetry