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Creating Watercolored Area Models of our Church

On the morning of October 22nd, my flock of Fourth graders arrived early to mass. Clipboards in hand, they had come to answer a challenging question:

Using COVID guidelines for seating, how many students can sit in the pews at Sacred Heart Church?

In order to complete this task, students needed to be able to apply what they had been learning about patterns, multiplication, and area to describe the rows of pews and their organization as columns. Students would also need to be able to visually estimate about 3 feet of distance (1 yard).

Modeling the Space

Upon arrival, we acknowledged that in order to space students 3 feet apart in the pews, just 3 students could fit per double row.

For single rows, students reasoned that 2 people could fit, one sitting on either end.

Taking large steps to count each row, students divided into three groups. Students counted the left, central, and right pews, and we used our collective reasoning to develop a map. It looked somewhat like this:

Students then broke off into partners to sketch a section of the front church pews. Once we returned to the school, the sets of partners shared their drawings. By sharing the number of pews students had counted and whether they were double or single pews, students were able to represent the pews as rows. Students then drew circles to represent each student.

Exploring the Math

First, we calculated the number of students who could fit in the front pews. Based on their drawings, students were able to multiply the number of rows by a one digit number (either 2 or 3). This represented the number of pews times 2 or 3 occupants. Thus, each group multiplied to find the number of individuals who could sit in their section.

Once all groups had multiplied, verified their answers with their teammates, and shared, students had to add all of the sections together to find the total number of students who could fit in the front of the church.

I allowed students some minutes to wrestle with the addition, which required adding 5 numbers. This was a great opportunity to practice regrouping. After taking a list of possible answers, we used the algorithm to add the numbers together on the projector. Ultimately, we found that 158 students could fit at the front of the church, following COVID regulations.

Next, students multiplied to find the number of occupants who could sit at the back of church. This calculation was significantly easier than the first step, because unlike the front of the church, whose pews vary by section, in the back of the church there are a predictable 19 pews per column. Students only needed to multiply 19×3 for double rows, and 19×2 for single rows. We also acknowledged that it would be possible to represent the two double rows of 19×3 at the center by the equation:

19 x 3 x 2

Fourth grade’s answer for the number of students’ who could sit in the back of the church was just 95 students. If you carefully add the central double pews (19x3x2) with the two side single pews (19x2x2), you will find that the answer is 114 students. Though students did make a mistake with this calculation, I am glad that this challenge was right at the edge of their comfort zone.

Finally, students added the number of people in the front of the church (158) with the number of people in the back of the church (95) to find their estimate that 253 kids could fit in the church.


For the sake of beauty, students and I decided to have them watercolor their models. My instructions to them were simple:

“Paint a color that represents how you feel inside the church.”

As you may see, many students decided to use bright colors. I noticed that several students used a mixture of specific shades in layers. Students made their love of rainbows clear and many used cool colors.Several students’ work also had a sense of movement, with different areas of the church highlighted in different colors.

This students’ work made me think of the River of Living Water mentioned in Revelation 22:1

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb

Revelation 22:1

While the Revelation verse relates Christ’s throne room in Heaven, I think you could make the strong argument that wherever Christ’s followers see him seated on the throne (seeing him as King and Lord), they encounter the same kind of living water.

Students’ Reflections

Students were mostly able to explain how they used artistic elements to compose their paintings! They were able to explain how many colors and shapes represented things related to their faith and the models themselves.

This student might be smelling in the Spirit

Overall, this project was short, sweet, and meaningful. It’s versatile to various kinds of churches and buildings. Please let me know if you happen to try it with your students; I’d love to know how it goes!


Published by Haley Nus

Hello! Formerly of Kansas, and Washington, DC, I am an emerging voice in Holy Spirit-led youth ministry. This site contains emergent apostolic strategy, prophetic words, and tutorials for the interdenominational, international, and charismatic Church and Educational Sector. Check out more on my journey with 5-fold ministry, doctoral study, and travel through my Monthly Summaries. I take Jesus's invitation to welcome children in his name (Luke 9:48) and Jesus's exhortation to become like children literally (Mathew 18:3). In order to shape the world well for adults, we must serve the youngest among us so that we will truly understand who we are as sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18).]

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