Before beginning our maskmaking activities, I ask my students to close their eyes and envision masks they may have seen or worn. “Why do people wear masks? Why do they create them?” They are given a few minutes to answer, and when they do, responses are surprising. “To celebrate a special event, to protect their faces, for fun, to trick people, to worship their Gods, to disguise themselves...” Another question is introduced. “What do you look for or notice in a mask? Responses again vary but indicate that a lot of thought has gone into their replies: the way the mask was decorated, the way the masks looks the same on the left and right sides, patterns and designs, colors used on the mask, the weight of the mask, whether it took on the shape of animals or mystical figure, its width and height, geometric shapes, the materials from which the mask was made... The explanations run the gamut, but through this line of questioning, I observe that my students put previously learned Math concepts into action, i.e., they recognize and identify patterns, symmetry, and geometric shapes found within these objects. I also discover to my pleasure that my young learners are sophisticated enough to describe an artifact with a keen eye and can perhaps embrace masks from a mature, socio-cultural perspective.
Our question and answer period is followed with a pictorial look at masks created by both Native American and African peoples (refer to annotated bibliography for helpful pictorial resources ).