Author Archives: Aileen Rizo

The Math in Art

My father is an artist, not by profession but by passion. Growing up, he was always using his artistic ability in some way to serve others whether that was designing backgrounds for the school Christmas play or drawing cartoons for my siblings and me. Art held high esteem in my home and was a way to build relationships, express one’s heart and serve the community. I was recently reminded of the importance of Art in education by one of my colleagues. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) is becoming the next evolution of the STEM acronym.  Some may think of it as another buzzword of the education field, but it does serve to remind us all of the importance of creativity, expression, and beauty.

While math is both my passion and profession, I have a distinct appreciation for the art in mathematics. If you are a student in one of my math classes, you will do origami. While origami has long been thought of as a child’s craft, recently it has been used to solve significant modern day problems. Origami has been used to fold solar panels to fit in rockets for space exploration. Origami has been used to design stents for use in surgical procedures. Origami is even being used to theorize at a microscopic level to find ways to cure diseases.

One aspect that is striking about origami is how much math is evident within the art. As a math instructor, one of my goals is to help students to see the math around them. When I fold paper with my students, I strive to use mathematically rich vocabulary with terms like – edge, rotate, parallel, midline, diagonal, symmetry, etc. As students hear, see, and do the paper folding the synapses in their brains fire making connections to many representations around these words. For example, take a look at the images below.


These photos show a folded heart model and an unfolded heart model, where tracing has been used to highlight the fold lines in black ink. What mathematics do you notice? Can you see what I see? – A line of symmetry, points of intersection, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, a trapezoid, a pentagon, etc. For younger children you might ask – “ How many triangles do you see?” and for older children you might ask “ What types of triangles do you see?” Purposely bringing out the math in this origami model is a way for students to reflect on how one sheet a paper transforms into a heart. It also provides opportunities to predict and discuss what would happen if one would alter the paper folding actions. I know of so many teachers who embrace art in their classrooms which is an amazing addition to the school day. As you think of your art activities this year, think about ways you incorporate mathematics into art. I’d love to hear some of your ideas!


Learning from Others – Deena Weisberg

Learning through play is an idea that is gaining much popularity in the field of education. Especially for young children, the use of play can harness a power of engagement that comes naturally to children. The characteristics of play that are productive for learning can prove to be an essential element in ensuring deep and… Continue Reading

Learning from Others – Nora Newcombe (Part 2)

In my last blog I introduced an expert researcher in the field of spatial reasoning, Dr. Nora Newcombe, and discussed the opportunity I had to interview her. Below are summaries of four of Dr. Newcombe’s articles that directly connect to our work and learning at the preschool level. Building Blocks for Developing Spatial Skills This… Continue Reading

Learning from Others – Dr. Nora Newcombe

Spatial reasoning can be described as a skill that helps us move through our physical environment. While this skill seems like one that intuitively develops over time, research indicates that one can improve their spatial skills with practice. Spatial reasoning has also been linked to not only mathematical ability but to success in any of… Continue Reading

In Their Voices (Part 5)

Lisa Marquez is a morning teacher for a 3 to 4 year old class in Reedley, California. She has been a teacher for 10 years; however, this is her first year with Head Start. Lisa began working in education by being involved in a K-5 after school program. When she completed her Bachelor of Arts… Continue Reading

In Their Own Words

As the Early Math team moves forward in our work with preschool teachers, we are in the process of collecting data not only on the children’s mathematics development, but also the teacher’s growth in pedagogy and content. In an effort to document these changes we are in the process of completing midyear teacher interviews. While… Continue Reading

A Community Effort

Newly released test scores in California revealed that only 32 percent of students in Fresno County met or exceeded math standards. This is only a 2 percent increase compared to last year. While this might sound discouraging, it should prompt all of us as stakeholders in education to take notice. It’s easy to step on… Continue Reading

The Metamorphosis of Teachers

Perhaps you have heard it said that the greatest influence in a classroom is not the equipment, or the curriculum, but the teacher. My work in preschool makes me believe this even more. In a single observation session I’ve seen a teacher be the mentor, the comforter, the organizer, the encourager, the innovator, and the… Continue Reading

The Potential of Curiosity

Defined as “a strong desire to know or learn something,” curiosity seems to be an important component of constructing new knowledge and, when joined with play, can create powerful learning experiences. Among the early math team, we are finding that it is often the simplest of materials that can elicit both of these characteristics. The… Continue Reading