Geometry Part 5: Composing and Decomposing 3D Shapes (+ surface area)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Composing and decomposing 3D shapes should help your students become more familiar with their attributes. Here are a few activities to help.  With emphasis on hands-on methods, examining real 3D shapes may help students find edges, vertices, and faces better than pictorial models.

  1.  Nets of 3D shapes are the least expensive way to get a set of 3D objects in each child’s hand, especially since most classrooms just usually have 1 set of plastic or wooden 3D shapes.
  2.  Build cubes and rectangular prisms using blocks or connecting cubes.
  3. Construct / deconstruct prisms using toothpicks, straws, coffee stirrers, craft sticks, or pretzel sticks as the edges. For the vertices, use clay, playdough, gum drops or slightly dried out marshmallows.
  4. Lucky enough to have a set of tinker toys? Or Magna Tiles? (We got our grandson some Magna Tiles and he loves them!  These tiles have magnetic edges which can hook together in an instant. Creating a cube, rectangular prism, pyramid, etc. is easy!  They are kind of expensive, but very versatile and creative.)
  5. Teach students how to draw 3D shapes. When composing a 3D shape, a student becomes more aware of the 2D faces, the edges, and the vertices they are drawing. Plus, if needed the student can draw the 3D shape on paper to assist them if taking a computer based assessment.  Here is my tutorial (below), but I’ll also include a couple of good websites in case you are 3D challenged. Click HERE for the pdf of the templates below.
  6. Observe how students count the edges, vertices, and faces.  If they are randomly trying to count them, they likely will be incorrect.  When needed, show them how to be methodical with their counting (ie: When counting the edges of a cube, run your finger along the edge as you count. Count the top 4 edges, then the bottom 4 edges, then the 4 vertical edges = 12.)

One of my favorite lessons regarding decomposing shapes is when teaching students (5th grade and up) how to measure surface area.  Click HERE for the free pdf guide for creating the rectangular prisms shown below.  It includes a blank grid so you can create your own (all courtesy of using their “dynamic paper” lesson). Continue reading

Geometry Part 2: Learning Continuum (van Hiele)

by C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady

Today’s post will focus on an aspect of geometry involving levels of thought.  We know PreK or KG students aren’t ready for formal definitions regarding shapes. Starting about 2nd grade, students might be ready to describe shapes using specific attributes. Pierre and Dina van Hiele are Dutch math educators who have an excellent way to describe how children move through these geometric thinking levels.  They are called “The van Hiele Levels of Geometric Thought.” Click on this link for a full description:  The van Hiele Model   Also – some good resources at the end of this post.

I became interested in these levels as I was doing research about better ways to help students master standards in Geometry.  (See more information below regarding these levels.)  Am I supposed to teach them the “proper definition” of a square in KG? At what point should students begin to understand the specific properties of a square – that it is actually a specific type of rectangle. And . . . when is it appropriate to help students realize that a square is also classified as a rhombus, rectangle, parallelogram, and quadrilateral? Click on the link for a pdf copy of the chart below: van Hiele Levels 0, 1, 2

What can we as teachers do to help them move through the levels? According to van Hiele, the levels can’t be skipped – children must progress through each hierarchy of thought. So while there is no grade level attached to these levels,  I like to think of the Visualization Level as the beginning point most appropriate for PreK-1st or 2nd grade students. Level 1 thinking might surface in grade 2 or 3 (and up). Students capable of Level 2 thinking may start with 3rd – 8th grade. Students in high school geometry might function at Level 3 thinking.

One of the properties of the levels he described has the name of “Separation.” The article linked above states: A teacher who is reasoning at one level speaks a different “language” from a student at a lower level, preventing understanding. When a teacher speaks of a “square” she or he means a special type of rectangle. A student at Level 0 or 1 will not have the same understanding of this term. The student does not understand the teacher, and the teacher does not understand how the student is reasoning. The van Hieles believed this property was one of the main reasons for failure in geometry. Teachers believe they are expressing themselves clearly and logically, but their Level 3 or 4 reasoning is not understandable to students at lower levels. Ideally, the teacher and students need shared experiences behind their language.

Here’s a closer look at the levels. Continue reading