Math + Art = Amazing Math Talk

Math + Art = Amazing Math Talk

Written by: Ella Hereth

March 8, 2023

In education–we talk a lot about formative assessment and assessment for learning…often without a lot of concrete examples of what that looks like in a math classroom.

In the early days of the pandemic, it became really clear we needed to rethink assessment in a major way. How can we possibly give a test to students taking it on their own at home and not expect them to use all the resources at their fingertips (including things like photo math) to get the answers? But we can vary our strategies to make “cheat proof” assessment projects if we are creative enough.

In an ideal assessment, students are also learning WHILE they are completing the project, but that’s often hard to create. And often, math tests feel like a punishment for students and create anxiety.

“In an ideal assessment, students are also learning WHILE they are completing the project, but that’s often hard to create.”

Enter the Desmos Art Project Assessment. It’s such a fun and creative way to end a semester, and students get very into displaying their math knowledge and creativity. And it’s definitely low floor and easy to start (especially if you use the Desmos Graphing Calculator in your classes), and there is always more you can do. To get a sense of the high ceiling of these projects check out some of the winners in the Desmos Global Art Show.

I first heard of the Desmos Art through the Pet House Project created by Cathy Yenca (@mathycathy on twitter) and popularized by countless 8th grade and Algebra I teachers across the country. I have used this project in Algebra I classes. Here are some projects 8th graders have created with only knowledge of linear equations.

Desmos Art 1
Desmos Art 2

Of course what happens is that students want to learn how to graph curves, so they will often ask or google how to graph curved lines and then they start playing with graphs of curves. Here is another example from a student:

Desmos 3

I usually assign Desmos art projects in an activity builder because it’s easier for me to keep track of and grade, but you could do it in any Desmos Graph, just have students save their work. Here’s the activity builder I created for the Pet House Project:

For my second semester Algebra I final last year, I created a Parabola Graphing Project centered around monsters. Students loved this project and we used their awesome work to put together a student math art show.

Desmos Art 4
Wall of Desmos Artwork

In both of these projects students are graphing lines, identifying the domain and range of relations and then using compound inequalities to restrict the domain or range. In the parabola graphing project they are also graphing parabolas. Once you’ve started graphing on the calculator, the possibilities are endless!  You can use an art project to assess almost all graphing skills.

One of my favorite things about graphing art is that mistakes are expected, and visual feedback is crucial. Students will make tons of mistakes, and they just need to try again until they get the line where they want it to be. Then they’ll come to you and say things like, “I’m trying to graph a curve like this. Can you give me any tips for a function?” And they’ll help each other too. Amazing math talk will happen.

Some teachers are concerned about students cheating and copying other graphs. A few tips to make cheating less common:

  • I always tell students I’m doing a reverse image search in google of their graphs to make sure they didn’t take their ideas from anywhere else.
  • An even better option though is to give them a random point to center the graph at. (I did not, but I will next time.) If you ask the center of their graph to be (-2, 5) for example, the amount of work they’ll need to do to transform all the functions they copy from someone else will be well worth it, and will definitely give them a strong graph of function transformation! Talk about assessment for learning.

I hope you’ll try a Desmos Art Project in your classroom. Please reach out to MsHerethMathCoach@gmail.com for more support or ideas and or via twitter @MsHereth.



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  • Ella Hereth

    Ella Hereth is a Nationally Board Certified Math Teacher who has been in the classroom for over 10 years. In that time she has won many teaching awards including the Teach Plus Math Educator of the Year, Sontag Prize in Urban Education, and the Teach for America Alumni Award for Excellence. Ella is passionate about creating a student centered classroom where all students are supported and encouraged to explore. She strongly believes everyone can learn math and works hard to create a space to make that possible. Right now she leads the math department at Harshman Middle School in Indianapolis Public Schools.

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