Brush of the Gods Math Lesson Plan



Our unofficial-but-kind-of-official district math module recommends starting the year off with understanding multiplying by 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10. It aligns with an Engage NY module and a Georgia module, but I wanted to start our unit off with a problem-based activity to gauge their understanding and to give us an anchor for future learning.

Last week, I read Lenore Look’s magnificent Brush of the Gods, and my kids adored it. Math specialist Siobhan and I plotted a pretty rad activity based on the main character’s huge fresco murals. I’m excerpting some of our lesson in the text of this post, and the whole activity is available for download at the end of the post.

I am posting this activity on a Sunday and I plan on launching this in class tomorrow. So check back in later this week and see what modifications I needed to make on the fly!

NOT an image of Wu Daozi! This is his portrait of Confucius.

Wu Daozi was a legendary muralist and painter who worked in Xian during the Tang Dynasty. I shared these photos from my 2009 trip to Xian (the first two photos in that post are actually from the Forbidden City in Beijing) to provide a sense of scale for the city walls. Then I’ll share this task with my students (it’s explained using the GRASP model for classroom-based assessments / problem-based learning activities).

Wu Daozi Memorial Fresco


  • Your task is to create a mural in the fanciful calligraphic style of Wu Daozi. Your mural will be a fresco, using plaster, along with any colored pigments you choose.


  • You are an artist inspired by Wu Daozi visiting the Chinese city of Xian.


  • Your artwork will be seen by all who travel into, out of, or around the city of Xian. 32.9 million tourists visit Xian every year (, 2008). The tourism board of Xian needs to know how much your mural will cost in Yuan, the national currency of China.


  • The challenge involves designing a mural on a grid. You have one week to submit your design to the tourism board.

Product, Performance, and Purpose

  • You will create a mural design, and you will also present a cost analysis of your design. The tourism board of Xian needs to know how much money to budget for the mural, as well as the amount of supplies you will need.

Standards and Criteria for Success

  • A successful mural and budget need to include:
    • The total cost of your plaster, pigment, and other supplies.
    • A breakdown of your costs.
    • A mathematical justification of your costs.
    • Your mural, designed on grid paper.
    • A reflection sharing budget suggestions with aspiring artists.
  • Your presentation might include:
    • A budget planning sheet.
    • Photographs of your budget calculations.

We designed a price sheet that would encourage students to perform repeated addition on numbers they have experience skip counting with.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 10.55.35 AM

We also included some items students would need only one of (like the brush), to gauge how they choose to add that toward their total budget.

Siobhan helped me plan a 2nd and 3rd grade rubric with standards from both Common Core mathematical practices and content. Feel free to use these plans however you see fit, but comments are always appreciated so we know how successful things have been in your class!

I acknowledge that there are many other directions I could have taken this activity. I plan on revisiting it later in the year for an area/perimeter situation that BLESSEDLY DOES NOT INVOLVE GARDENS, but for now, my main goal is for students to explore repeated addition and patterns with 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10.

Goodies here! Click click click! Brush of the Gods lesson plans & rubrics.

One thought on “Brush of the Gods Math Lesson Plan”

  1. Wow! This is fantastic! LOVE it!!! I never would have guessed my work could lead to so much homework. And such interesting homework at that! How ’bout teaching them to count to fifty (on your purchase order form) in Chinese? And extra credit for answers in Chinese! Yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi . . . that’s one through ten, to get you started.

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