“Look around the room,” Head Teacher Miranda Orbach instructed her Class 2 students one recent morning. “See how many geometric shapes you can find.” From their spots on the blue carpet, the students, half of a full class, eagerly scanned their classroom for examples.
After Ms. Orbach and fellow Head Teacher Soo Kim asked for volunteers to share their discoveries, several hands shot up. “That’s a circle!” one student declared, pointing to the clock by the door. “I found a cylinder,” another announced, indicating the top of a lamp. Others suggested the tip of a pencil, a plastic storage bin and even Ms. Orbach’s watch.
“As you can see, shapes are all around us,” noted Ms. Orbach. “They help us understand our world better.”
After this intriguing introduction, the half-group of students learned that they would make their own three-dimensional geometric shapes (The other half-group participated in the same lesson later in the day). As their teachers explained, “cooperative teamwork” was essential for the hands-on activities that awaited these young mathematicians.
“What makes cooperative teamwork?” Ms. Kim asked.
“Supporting others and helping them,” a student confidently responded.
With expectations set, the students broke into two equal groups of five, dispersing to different areas of Room 33, one at the front by the smart board, the other in a back corner surrounded by book shelves. Drawing on their newly acquired knowledge of three-dimensional shapes and each one’s specific attributes (such as faces, edges, vertices and the ability to roll), they got ready to tackle a series of exhilarating challenges.
Ms. Orbach and Ms. Kim distributed a handout that described the shapes their students were tasked with making (rectangular prism, cube, triangular prism, cone and pyramid, among others). They also gave each group a long piece of white string, tied together at the ends, similar to the string used in cat’s cradle. The students put on their thinking caps. How would they go about devising these structures?
Before diving in, Ms. Orbach and Ms. Kim reminded the students of important rules they needed to follow:
-Every student had to have at least one hand on the string.
-Untying the string was not permitted.
-The entire length of string had to be utilized.
-Teachers needed to approve each shape before the group could move on to the next.
-Shapes could be created in any order.
“Math groups! Are you ready?” inquired Ms. Kim. The room buzzed with anticipation. “Let’s make shapes!”
For the next 20 minutes, the students focused on forming a series of intricate 3D shapes. It was a formidable undertaking, for sure, as they tried to arrange their string in the required configurations. With Ms. Orbach, Ms. Kim and Elizabeth Jen, the Lower School Mathematics Coordinator, offering suggestions and support, each group labored diligently, persevering through trial and error.
As this writer observed, teamwork, determination, ingenuity and strategic problem-solving skills were on remarkable display. With gentle reminders from their teachers, every group member fully engaged in these thrilling challenges, respectfully sharing ideas, while working together to solve stumbling blocks that cropped up along the way.
“We made a pyramid!” one student shouted excitedly as her group finally achieved this desired shape. “We made one of the bonus challenges!” announced a member of the second group. “It was so hard!”
After successfully creating each shape, the elated students paused for photographs, their deftly placed fingers holding the elaborate string sculptures aloft. Indeed, these Class 2 students’ solid grasp of three-dimensional shapes, and their boundless pride, were unmistakable.