This activity could take place in the museum or in the classroom. It is differentiated so educators can decide how best to adjust the level of instruction to fit students' abilities.
Objective: Students will become familiar with vocabulary (Golden mean, golden section, golden ratio) and be able to state its values and discuss why it became associated with balance and beauty.
German mathematician Martin Olm first called Euclid's ratio the "Golden Section" in an 1835 publication, and it became an artistic standard of beauty. It was thought that this ratio is the key to achieving harmony of parts within a whole. It can be found in architecture (architect Peter Behrens, the Parthenon in Athens, St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, Santa Maria Novella in Florence), in the human figure (daVinci) and in the combination of human interaction with architecture (Le Corbusier's Maison La Roche). For more information, see Lynn Gamwell's Mathematics + Art: A Cultural History).
Also, see this Math is Fun Golden Ration website for figures and explanations.
Elementary / Middle School:
1. Explain the Golden Mean / Golden Section / Golden Ratio as your students would understand it: the whole length divided by the long part = the long part divided by the short part. Point this out as you explain, on an architectural plan or on a rectangular drawing.
2. Study various architectural plans, such as for the Parthenon, and assess whether they are built according to the Golden Mean.
3. Observe Dorothea Rockburne's Golden Section Painting #6. Which shapes are featured? Does this composition seem balanced to you? Why would she title it this way? Does it adhere to the mathematical formula?