Tiles, Blocks, Sapphires & Gold: Designing a Treasure Map

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, October 4, 2006

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics

Lesson Time

One or two fifty-minute class periods


In this activity, students will engage in active problem solving as they create a design for a map leading to a hidden treasure. They will work in collaborative groups, explore numerical problems, and explain the strategies they used to solve design problems.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level I. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
1. Draws pictures to represent problems
2. Uses discussions with teachers and other students to understand problems
4. Makes organized lists or tables of information necessary for solving a problem
5. Uses whole number models (e.g., pattern blocks, tiles, or other manipulative materials) to represent problems
Standard 2. Level I. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of numbers
1. Understands that numerals are symbols used to represent quantities or attributes of real-world objects
3. Understands symbolic, concrete, and pictorial representations of numbers (e.g., written numerals, objects in sets, number lines)
Standard 5. Level I. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of geometry
2. Understands the common language of spatial sense (e.g., "left," "right," "horizontal," "in front of")
Physical Education
Standard 1. Uses a variety of basic and advanced movement forms

9. Uses locomotor skills in rhythmical patterns (e.g., even, uneven, fast, and slow)Standard 2. Uses movement concepts and principles in the development of motor skills2. Understands terms that describe a variety of relationships with objects (e.g., over/under, behind, alongside, through)

Language Arts
Standard 8. Level I. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
1. Makes contributions in class and group discussions (e.g., reports on ideas and personal knowledge about a topic, initiates conversations, connects ideas and experiences with those of others)
2. Asks and responds to questions (e.g., about the meaning of a story, about the meaning of words or ideas) 
Visual Arts
Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
3. Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques


Students will do the following:

  • use varied strategies to solve a design problem involving numbers and space
  • explain their strategies to an audience
  • create a map using pattern blocks and/or tiles
  • create a painting
  • create an oral presentation


  • computer with Internet access
  • Internet websites


  • drawing paper
  • paint
  • crayons, markers, colored pencils
  • pattern blocks
  • tiles


Building Background
A Walking Trip

The purpose of this activity is to have students demonstrate an understanding of spatial concepts.

1. Ask for student volunteers. Have the selected students follow a set of directions around the classroom.

Use the following directions:

  • Walk from one side of the classroom to the other and count how many steps you have taken.
  • Take three steps and then turn left and take four steps backward.
  • Take five slow steps and five fast steps. 
  • Turn right and take six steps.
  • Turn right, take three steps, and then turn left.
  • Walk behind the teacher's desk.
  • Walk in front of the teacher's desk.
  • Walk to the classroom door, and step over an object on the floor.


2. Vary the directions to give students several opportunities to practice this activity.

Steps for Learning
Treasure Map Design 

1. Tell the students that they are going to play a game that involves a hidden treasure, a map, shapes, numbers, and painting.

2. Provide the students with an assortment of small objects that can be used as the "hidden treasure." You can use game pieces, trinkets, beads, etc. Divide the class into small groups. Tell each group that they must select a location to hide their treasure, and write the location down on a piece of paper. Collect students' papers.

3. Tell the students that they must design a map showing where the object is hidden. Give the students pattern blocks or tiles to use to construct the map. After the group has finished making a map with the pattern blocks or tiles, ask them to create a painting based on the map. Tell the students that their painting should tell a story about the location of the hidden treasure, and that the story can be told using shapes, numbers and symbols. Give the students materials to create their paintings.

4. Tell the students that each group must present its painting to the class, and the other groups must guess where the hidden treasure is using only the painting for clues. Encourage students to ask questions about the paintings and the information they contain about the location of the hidden treasure.

Teacher Note: You may also choose to do this activity on a school playground.

5. Discuss the effectiveness of the paintings in giving clues about where the object was hidden. Ask the students what kinds of clues were most helpful and least helpful in locating the hidden treasure.

6. After all the hidden treasures are discovered, ask each group to share its design process. Each group should include the following in its oral presentation:

  • An explanation of how the group constructed its map
  • An explanation of how the group decided on what clues to use
  • An explanation of how the group designed its painting



Teacher Note: You may wish to complete the reflection component with your students.

-Rate how well your painting gave your classmates clues to find the hidden treasure.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor
-Rate how well you used numbers and shapes to give your classmates clues to find the hidden treasure.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor
-Rate your creativity.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor
-Rate how well you explained your thinking to your classmates.
Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Create a Class Treasure Map
Have your students create a class map painting combining all the different clues and maps from each group.


Activity Two: Online Mapping
As a class, create a map using the online mapping tool that can be found at https://www.aquarius.geomar.de/omc/.

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