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.

SBE Assessment Training

Today, I kept it real at a rad meeting of the minds. Folks from across the district came together to take the next step in creating common assessments that will be used district-wide. I worked on 3-5 reading assessments with some incredibly inspiring folks district-wide. I finally had the chance to meet Erin Hassen, who I had heard about for YEARS from Garrett and Siobhan Chan, the educational power couple. I want to hang out with her every day. I have so much to learn from her.

Common core is pretty darned awesome. It is going to kick us in the FACE if we are not prepared.

Today, I also learned about Dan Meyer from Kimmie Choi, who is brilliant. His work made me think about how much I would love it if I could finagle a doctoral fellowship some time in my future. If you can help me plot this scheme, let me know. I’m not terribly picky about schools……..


… or anywhere that would have me.

Anyway. I had a chance to see the math team coach from Sacajawea Middle School, who helped me answer the NCTM’s Twitter math problem of the day. (Half is one-third of it. What is it?) The coach didn’t seem to remember me from the TJ math competitions we’ve been at together, but it’s OK, because there were a lot of people at the meeting who I knew but who didn’t know me. Besides, I’d rather people not remember me than immediately know me as OH THAT person.

I thought a lot today about what impact an effective principal is able to have outside of the school building. I was freaking out this morning, all, “WHAT IF MICHAEL LEAVES US SOON AND PEOPLE GET CRAZY NEGATIVE?!?!?!” and about halfway to Federal Way (and halfway through my iced pumpkin spice latte), I realized that even in that worst-case scenario, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Even if negativity descended on the school, I am now MUCH better equipped to have power over my own experiences within that negativity.

Speaking of having POWER over crappy situations, Miss Washington came to our school yesterday. I was EXTREMELY SKEPTICAL up until about a half hour into her assembly. Then she blew my mind and I wanted to hug her and hire her. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

Now. Off to catch my bus. Even though I grumble about it right after I wake up, I really love taking the bus. I just wish my funds permitted me to purchase an iced pumpkin spice latte both on the way to AND from Federal Way…