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Friday, January 25, 2013


Radial Symmetry with Mandalas

I've recently introduced Mandalas to my 6th graders.  I started with a PowerPoint about their history and significance in various cultures as well as the art world (let me know if you'd like my PowerPoint for your own use).  After the PowerPoint we talked about the things we had learned and the characteristics of Mandalas.  We defined 'radial symmetry' and discussed lines, shapes and patterns before diving into our own creations.  I had them come up to the dry erase board and draw as many different types of lines and shapes that they could come up with to get some ideas flowing.

The students each start with a 12"x12" sheet of white drawing paper and fold it in half in all possible directions (that's four folds, kids!). I show them the example below but make sure that they know I only drew the lines so that they could see where I had folded my paper, they are not to draw the lines in their creases.

How and where to fold paper for radial symmetry

We then discuss our options for how to start our Mandalas.  I let them know that they will be creating one design inside of just one of these newly formed triangles.  However, we will repeat the design for our radial symmetry and it will look completely different (think kaleidoscopes) in the end. 

I suggest that they go with either a series of interesting lines and shapes to fill space (in just one triangle) or using their name or a word (sports teams are popular in my current class) in block/bubble letters that stretch to fill the entire triangle.  I emphasize that neither option has lines drawn inside of our fold creases, but both have lines that stretch from one edge of the triangle to another. I show them what these might look like at the end of this step.
Lines and Shapes option for Mandala

Name or Words option for Mandala
The beauty of this lesson is that they all come out so completely differently!  It gives my students a chance to make their own artistic decisions while still demonstrating an understanding for the elements and principles of art and design! 
After they have drawn inside of one triangle I gather them around and show them how to simply fold their paper in half so that their drawing is on the inside.  We look closely and see how our lines show through to the back a little bit and trace over them so that the graphite transfers from one side of the paper to the next, giving us a faint mirror image which we can trace over to make it stand out more.

After darkening their lines so that they have two triangles filled in nicely, they will fold their paper in a new direction so that their designs are still on the inside.  They can now trace over the back of both of these triangles to transfer two sections at once. 

I continue the fold/transfer process so that I can trace over the same two sections (once I've traced them, those lines are easy to see and retrace) so that they fill the remaining spaces in radial symmetry
Fold diagonally and trace then repeat  to complete the Mandala

 The lines and shapes version will come out something along these lines
The names or words version will come out like this one

Students then get to choose their medium of choice.  These can be completed any way you would like, however, I have carpet in my room so I don't offer paint for this project.  I do offer colored pencils, crayons, markers, pastels and drawing/shading pencils.  I demonstrate how to use each medium and its effects and allow the students to make their own decisions. 

Below I've uploaded some finished examples I have currently but I will be sure to upload more students' work as soon as they are complete.  Please contact me know if you have any questions!
This student used colored pencils and some shading skills
This student used drawing pencils and  shading skills