Optical Illusions - How to use them in the classroom

"Seeing is believing." But sometimes our eyes deceive us, and what we see is only what our brain expects to see. Optical illusions are amusing, but they also teach us a lot about how our brain works in conjunction with our eyes to create vision. 

A great way to start a lesson on optical/visual illusions would be with this amazing illusion, titled Impossible Motion. The video won best Illusion in the 2010 Best Illusion of the Year Awards and was submitted by the Meiji Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences, Japan.

Impossible motion: magnet-like slopes

Optical Illusions and Mathematics

You won't find many learners rushing to their maths lesson. The thought of being faced with a set of mathematical equations or diagrams is not most kids' idea of fun.  However, projecting an optical illusion up on a screen/whiteboard with a question to answer will spark curiosity and debate and can engage students for an entire class period increasing the effectiveness of your lesson.

  • To complete many advanced mathematical functions, it's important to be able to visualize three-dimensional space. However, most learners do not spend a lot of time visualising the world in this way, despite the growing amount of 3-D movies released each year.  A benefit of using optical illusions in a maths classroom is that it encourages learners to think in three dimensions.


  • Illusions often contain riddles that require you to use critical thinking skills to solve. Deciding how many squares are present in an image would be one example of how learners would have to remember the definition of a square and look beyond the normal parameters to find the answer. Regular use of optical illusions can be an entertaining way to enhance learners' critical thinking skills.


Optical Illusions and Science

  • Illusions can be useful tools to incorporate into a lesson on the function of the brain and the eyes. Optical illusions help learners see how the brain and the eyes work together to determine how something appears versus what is really there. Questions like: 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?


  • Optical illusions can be used to understand memory. Learners look at an optical illusion for a short period of time, record what they saw, and then look at the image again to see if they could recall all of the details. A great introduction for a lesson on short term versus long term memory.

Arrows Optical Illusion


Optical Illusions and Creative Arts

Learners will have great fun creating their own optical illusions.  We think you'll enjoy using these lessons in your classroom.



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