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Escher's Edges

Investigate and experience the fun of M. C. Escher’s tessellating shapes. Students create their own tessellating shapes and fit them together like a puzzle. This impressive art will showcase the understanding your students have of this interesting mathematical marvel!

  • Grade 5
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Have students research the life and art of mathematician and artist M. C. Escher, who is most famous for his realistic-looking but physically impossible architecture, and for his art based on tessellating shapes. A tessellation is a shape that when repeated surrounding itself, there is no negative space, only parts of another of that exact same shape.
    2. Provide each student with a 2” (50mm) square of a recycled file folder, scissors and tape. Demonstrate the process of cutting a shape from one edge, say the top, and then sliding it down the square, in precisely the same area (space from the corner), lining up the straight edge, and taping it in place there. Rotate the square and these shapes can be cut and taped on all 4 sides.
    3. Using this as the stencil base, have students trace this shape on 4 other 4” (100mm) squares from a recycled folder. Demonstrate how to punch a scissor point into the center of the shape and have students cut out their shape on all 4 of these (now) stencils; be sure their names are on all pieces as these can be saved and used over and over (after ‘drying’).
    4. After covering work areas with newspaper, students should use a plain white piece of paper with their names already on the back. Setting this aside and choosing 4 colors to work with, demonstrate how to color the entire outline of the shape cut out with Crayola® Slick Stix. Immediately after coloring on the outline, set the stencil on the white paper and hold the stencil sturdily in place. Using a crumbled paper towel, use your finger and rub from the outer edge of the Slick Stix color to the center of the cut out shape. This process will smudge the color to the inside of the shape. Repeat this process from all angles of the outside coloring until no more color seems to be changing.
    5. When the stencil is removed there should be a neat colored area of the tessellated shape. Line up the next blank stencil with the edges of the colored one on the white paper; they edges should line up pretty well.
    6. Continue this process until the paper is filled, repeating the process of coloring each stencil just before the smudge process. These artworks can be displayed with the stencils and original shape to teach viewers about the concept of tessellations and also introduce them to the fascinating art of M. C. Escher!
  • Standards

    LA: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources.

    LA: Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write, speak (& create) about the subject knowledgeably.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    MA: Analyze patterns and relationships.

    MA: Represent & interpret (measurement) data.

    VA: Students will initiate making works of art and design by experimenting, imagining and identifying content.

  • Adaptations

    Further add detail to these artworks by having students ‘see’ an object or creating a creature in that shape and adding the same details to each of them.

    Taking this art project a little further (than previous adaptation), have students ‘see’ 2 different objects or creatures in their shape and add details of one of them on the top row of their work, and then the details of the other on the bottom row. For the rows in between, have the details slightly change so that the top row subtly changes into the bottom row throughout the middle of the project. (in the style of Escher’s fish to birds, etc.)

    Trace one of Escher’s shapes and create stencils for students to repeat on paper and make their own images out of the shapes.

    Have each student in class share their stencils with others to create their own version a friends’ shape artwork.

    Re-create this process using large paper and only 2 colors & use buttons or other objects and play checkers! (or chess!!)


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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