Using Optical Illusion Brain Teasers Add a Twist to Math and Science

Optical illusion activities can provide a motivating way for students to explore math and science concepts.

By Deborah Reynolds


optical illusion lesson plans

Optical illusions are usually used as a source of intrigue and entertainment. You may have seen the image that can appear to be a older woman, but from a different perspective, clearly looks like a younger woman facing away. There are millions of these brain teasers out there, and they can be very useful in the classroom.

One idea is to use optical illusions when teaching geometry. After teaching the basic concepts of congruence and symmetry, teachers can use optical illusions to challenge students to identify whether two figures are congruent, or to find where the image can be divided, and have a mirror image on both sides. In order to successfully complete these activities, students must be able to look past the illusions to determine how to solve the problem. This would be a great activity for students that have mastered the basics of the standard, and are ready to go above and beyond.

Illusions are wonderful tools to incorporate into a unit on the function of the brain and the eyes. Optical illusions help students see how the brain and the eyes work together to determine how something appears versus what is really there. How does the brain function? Does it automatically identify an image by what stands out or what is familiar? What role do the eyes play in this process? Students would love exploring these questions with illusions.

When learning about the functions of the brain as it relates to the eyes, optical illusions can be used to understand memory. Students can look at an optical illusion for a short period of time, record what they saw, and then look back at the image to see if they could recall all of the details. This would be a great introduction or hook for a lesson on short term versus long term memory.

What you see is not always what you get, but that first look can be used to gain knowledge. Optical illusions are a cross-curricular resource. They can be incorporated into many math and science lessons while touching on the subject of art. What a great new way to grab our students’ attention!

Optical Illusion Brain Teasers

Perfect Perception?

Perception puzzles are used to teach symmetry and eye/mind relationships. This lesson encompasses content in art, math, and science. Students are shown examples of optical illusions, and the websites where they can be found are included in the lesson plan. There are even suggestions for remediation and extension. 


Students study the difference between short term and long term memory using optical illusions. Students begin this lesson by playing Memory Madness which tests their short term memory using images projected on a screen for thirty seconds. Then, students discuss information from a video by Bill Nye, the Science Guy in which he talks about the functions of the brain and the nervous system. Students conclude this activity by creating a model of a brain. This lesson covers every learning style.

What You See Is What You Get (Not)!

In this lesson, not only do students get to study different optical illusions, but they also learn the origin of them. One original concept included in this lesson is bringing in guest speakers to talk about optical illusions. The lesson recommends having an eye doctor or neurologist come in to talk to the students about how the brain and eyes work together to process an optical illusion. Students also learn about artists such as M. E. Escher. 

Optical Illusion Coordinate Geometry

The students use coordinate geometry to study congruence. This lesson begins with an optical illusion of a geometric design in which students try to tell which rectangle is the longest. Students have to use what they know about congruence to solve the problem. This lesson comes with links to the sites where various optical illusions can be found and used for a group activity on congruence. Here are more coordinate geometry worksheets.

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Deborah Reynolds