Exploring Shape and Space – Practically

Maths Scholars Celebratory Event - 22 September 2018

This workshop, the third of three on the scholarship celebration day, was led by Anne Fieldhouse, a veteran in education having taught all ages, from early years through to trainee teachers. The goal was to develop practical ways to investigate 2- and 3-D shapes that can be used in a classroom to both help students who best learn kinesthetically and students who may have strong numerical skills but who lack the practical ones they will need in life.

The first activity we tried was called “Envelope Surprise”, a very clever method of folding, marking and cutting a rectangular envelope in such a way that it could be opened out into a regular tetrahedron. At all times Anne made it abundantly clear that these activities were not just for younger or lower ability students – at every stage more maths can be brought in, such as angles, areas and, at the finish, volume.

The second activity followed on directly, beginning as the first did with equilateral triangles. This activity, “A Star is Born” involved folding two such triangles first into hexagons, then back into triangles and finally connecting the two together to create a six-pointed star. In this activity more than any other the angles were at the forefront. Concepts such as interior and exterior angles could be introduced in this way – a suggested extension was to unfold the star and label the values of all the angles involved at each stage in its construction – there are a lot!

The final activity was, in my opinion, the most fun. We were each dealt six used train tickets. At this point there was a brief aside about leading students in discovering information about resources you give them – in this case Anne has befriended the ticket collectors at Leeds train station and occasionally leans on them for supplies of tickets for activities such as this one. We were guided in folding each of our tickets into squares, with even flaps on either side. With some care and dexterity – or teamwork – these squares could be arranged into a very sturdy cube - the test of a good cube was to be able to throw it in the air and catch it again without it falling to pieces. Now, as a table, we were asked to connect our cubes together, face to face, to create a larger 3-D structure. This relied on our groups communicating effectively and pooling resources, useful skills to bring out in students. The resulting shapes were complex arrangements and it was suggested that this could lead into a follow up on perspective drawing and elevations, both conceptually tricky topics.

In all I very much enjoyed this workshop. The main message I took away from it was that pretty much any activity can be adapted to pretty much any topic – all it takes is a little thought.

Joe Machin