The Shape of Things

We’re having fun with shapes! In kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2, we have been exploring, sorting, and comparing 2-D shapes using a variety of tools.  Here’s what we’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks.

In some classes, we started off on a shape scavenger hunt to see which shapes we could identify in our learning space. Students were excited to identify different shapes in the room and magazines. Many were impressed by how many items they could find that were shapes that they knew the names of. The face of our clock is a circle. The lego bins in our class have faces made out of rectangles. The books on our shelves and our SmartBoard also have rectangular faces. We identified a lot of rectangles in our space. 

After identifying shapes that we could easily name or identify, we started talking about composite shapes. The tangram is a Chinese puzzle made from a square cut into seven pieces: two large triangles, one medium-sized triangle, two small triangles, one square, and one parallelogram. After discussing the properties of these shapes and congruence, the students were really amazed by how these 7 shapes could be put together to make a square. Many tried to flip and turn the shapes to return them to the original square and realized that it was a little tricky. After having some time to play with the tangram, students had the chance to try and see what they could create other than a square. They were then introduced to tangram puzzles and their minds were blown. After having the chance to physically manipulate the shapes, we took our skills online. Exploring Mathigon’s Tangram Builder, students had the chance to see how they could piece together the shapes to compose pictures and designs using these 2-D shapes. 

We have also been exploring what we can make using geoboards. Using the Math Learning Center’s Geoboards, students were given a few challenges and rose to the occasion. Here are just a few of the challenges we explored:

  •  Using your geoboard, make a shape that satisfies a rule (i.e., four sides; all equal sides; greater than 4 sides). What’s the name of your shape?
  • Using the geoboard make the letters in your name. What shapes did you use?
  • Create a picture using 3 different shapes. Describe your picture and the shapes you used. 
  • Make triangles of different sizes. Describe the differences between your triangles. 

We’re having a blast exploring shapes. This has also been a great reminder for me as to the importance of having manipulatives that students can move around and use as well as incorporating technology. We’ve explored with both and while some have really enjoyed using the online tools, there have been some who automatically gravitate to the physical tools in our space. Either way, we’re learning and having fun in the process.

Computer Science Education Week

The beginning of December marked Computer Science Education Week. It was our chance to continue deepening our Computational Thinking skills with unplugged and online activities. The kindergarten students were learning to communicate an understanding of basic spatial relationships while students in grades 1 to 5 were learning to solve problems and create computational representations of mathematical situations using coding concepts and skills. 

Throughout the year, kindergarten students have been learning to communicate basic spatial relationships – on top, beside, to the left of, to the right of, ahead, etc.  They’re picking it up quickly and that helped us when we started working on our Lego Mazes. Students started by building their mazes on Lego Baseplates and then used the arrows to help move their minifigures from the start to the end of the maze. Some groups realized that there were different ways to make their way through. Having this practice proved helpful when they had the opportunity to try a couple of online activities – Code Monkey Junior and Beaver Achiever

The grade 1s and 2s were pretty curious about the Lego Mazes and tried their hand at using the arrows to move their way through the mazes that the kindergarten students created. It took some practice but in groups, they were able to get the job done. Next, using images on a grid, students were tasked with coding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They had to consider the steps that are involved in creating the sandwich and then determine the sequence of events as they moved from one place to the next, gathering the materials and making their sandwich. This practice was also helpful for them for their online activities – Code Monkey Junior and Beaver Achiever

The grades 3, 4, and 5 students were all about solving problems in Minecraft using code.org and Minecraft for Education. Starting out in code.org gave students the opportunity to have some guided practice and when it came time to work in the Minecraft for Education space, those skills came in handy as students coded their way to escape the mysterious mansion. It was great to see students collaborating with each other and finding different ways of coding their way out of challenges. I found it particularly interesting that there were some students that were able to catch mistakes in the code of their peers even before running it. The opportunity to debug the code in Minecraft for Education was really great for some to see how changing small things could result in big changes overall. 

I’m still working on ways of helping students to explicitly understand computational skills – algorithmic thinking, abstraction, decomposition, generalizing and patterns, evaluation, and logic. While Computer Science Education Week only lasts one week in the year, we’re excited that the learning is ongoing and that the skills we are learning are transferable to other subject areas as we consider ways of solving problems.

We’re Building Again!

Lay a challenge before a creative and imaginative group of students and you get nothing but sheer enthusiasm and excitement to tackle that challenge. My school’s kindergarten and primary students, like Iggy Peck, are always up for a building challenge. After reading the book and realizing just how devastating a broken bridge could be, groups of students banded together using linking discs to solve the problem and created some incredible bridges. 

In groups of 3 or 4, students quickly got to work and realized that the task of creating a bridge that was long enough and sturdy enough, during a short period of time, would require all hands on deck. Although each group was given the same task, it was great to see that groups approached the build in different ways.  It was really nice to see groups of students working together and listening to one another about what they might choose to build. Some considered building a straight line, while others tried to create something that looked like a ladder that someone could walk across. For some members, linking the discs was hard and so they took a longer time to help with the build, all while having their teammates there to help them along. From one corner of the classroom, I heard a kinder say, “I’m doing it!” while their classmate replied, “Good job”. 

When it came time to test out their creations, some groups quickly realized that they needed all of their members to help carry their bridges over to the testing station. Along the way, many broke and members had to help each other piece their bridges back together again. At the testing area, some groups found that their bridges weren’t long enough and had to go back and add on. Other groups found that what they had built wasn’t sturdy enough, resulting in the bridges falling or sliding off of the chairs. They too went back to the drawing board and added discs for extra stability, and sometimes weight at the ends.

Part of what I love so much about my work in this role is that I have the opportunity to support students in failing forward. Many were not successful on their first try and it was refreshing to see that we’ve created a space where that’s ok and we can go back and try again. We’ve had a couple of periods each of building bridges and I don’t think they’re tired yet. I’m more excited about the bridges we are building with each other as we support one another in building our creativity.