It's All in the Shape
How does this align with my curriculum?
Overview
Students observe and compare and contrast a variety of structures to find out which shapes are most common. They then make a variety of shapes and test the strength of these shapes.
Timing
6090 minutes
Setting the Stage
Children are naturally curious and explore their environment from a young age. It is not uncommon for misconceptions to develop through these explorations. In this inquiry, educators provide opportunities for students to rethink the misconception that a structure is always a building. As students compare and contrast a wide variety of structures (e.g., umbrellas, bike helmets, shoes) both natural and humanmade, they will observe that some shapes are more commonly found in structures than others, and why.
This inquiry could begin from:
 questions and/or comments arising from observations of shapes in structures in their environment made and recorded on a walk in the community. Discuss using questions such as:
 “You’ve included a bicycle in your pictures. Why do you think a bicycle is a structure? When you look at the bicycle, what shapes do you see?”
 “Do all structures have the same purpose? Tell me why you think that.”
 “Is it only people that build structures? Do people design and build structures in the same way as animals do? What makes you think that?”
 reading a book about shapes such as Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt, Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale, or How Things Are Made by Oldrich Ruzicka. Discuss using questions such as:
 “What materials are used in humanmade structures?” (e.g., in a house, in a bicycle, in a shoe)
 “How are structures made by humans and animals the same and different?” (e.g., materials, purpose)
 “Do humanmade and animalmade structures always stay together? Do they always stay standing? Why do you think some structures fall apart or fall down?”
Details
Materials
 cocktail sticks, toothpicks or uncooked spaghetti noodles**
 paper plate to hold weights
 plasticine or marshmallows**
 weights for testing (metal nuts/washers or some other small items to use as weights)
** Some jurisdictions do not allow food items to be used for this kind of exploration. Educators should follow local guidelines when selecting materials for this inquiry.
Materials
 cocktail sticks, toothpicks or uncooked spaghetti noodles**
 paper plate to hold weights
 plasticine or marshmallows**
 weights for testing (metal nuts/washers or some other small items to use as weights)
** Some jurisdictions do not allow food items to be used for this kind of exploration. Educators should follow local guidelines when selecting materials for this inquiry.
What to Do
Students develop the skills of Observing, Comparing & Contrasting and Drawing Conclusions as they learn about the strength of different shapes used in structures.
Students:
 observe, make sketches and/or take photos of structures while on a walk in the school neighbourhood.
 use markers to outline the shapes they see in the sketches and photos.
 Educator observes and documents, including students’ questions and wonderings for use in the development of further learning through inquiry.
 use the materials provided to make basic shapes and structures (square, triangle, cube, pyramid, etc.).
 Educator asks guiding questions and probing questions as students explore independently.
 explore the strength of diagonals/triangles in structures.
 Educator may need to facilitate this part of the exploration through guiding questions and then let students explore independently.
 use weights to compare and contrast the strength of various constructed shapes and structures they have created.
 draw conclusions about which shape(s) is (are) the strongest based on information gathered.
What to Do
Students develop the skills of Observing, Comparing & Contrasting and Drawing Conclusions as they learn about the strength of different shapes used in structures.
Students:
 observe, make sketches and/or take photos of structures while on a walk in the school neighbourhood.
 use markers to outline the shapes they see in the sketches and photos.
 Educator observes and documents, including students’ questions and wonderings for use in the development of further learning through inquiry.
 use the materials provided to make basic shapes and structures (square, triangle, cube, pyramid, etc.).
 Educator asks guiding questions and probing questions as students explore independently.
 explore the strength of diagonals/triangles in structures.
 Educator may need to facilitate this part of the exploration through guiding questions and then let students explore independently.
 use weights to compare and contrast the strength of various constructed shapes and structures they have created.
 draw conclusions about which shape(s) is (are) the strongest based on information gathered.
Assessment
Using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, observe and record students’ ability to:
 Observe and Record – students determine an appropriate method (e.g., in sketches, in photographs) to record their observations of shapes found in a variety of humanmade and natural structures.
 Compare & Contrast – students identify similarities and differences in the strengths of different shapes based on information gathered from their investigations.
 Analyzing & Interpreting – students draw logical conclusions about which shape is strongest based on information gathered.
Assessment
Using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, observe and record students’ ability to:
 Observe and Record – students determine an appropriate method (e.g., in sketches, in photographs) to record their observations of shapes found in a variety of humanmade and natural structures.
 Compare & Contrast – students identify similarities and differences in the strengths of different shapes based on information gathered from their investigations.
 Analyzing & Interpreting – students draw logical conclusions about which shape is strongest based on information gathered.
Coconstructed Learning
Students: Saying, Doing, Representing 
Educator: Interactions: Responding, Challenging 

Students take a neighbourhood walk to explore natural and humanmade structures in the environment. 

Students identify shapes used in animal and humanmade structures found in the environment. Students identify patterns in the shapes found in different structures. 

Students use materials provided to create different 2D and 3D structures (e.g. triangles, squares, rectangles, cubes, pyramids, rectangular prisms, etc.). 

Students test the strength and stability of the structures created by pulling apart and pushing together opposite corners. 

Students investigate how adding diagonals (i.e., triangles) will affect the strength and stability of the structures. 

Students explore the strength of diagonals/triangles in structures by exploring how triangles impact their own stability. 

Students use the materials provided to test the strength of the structural shapes they have constructed. 

Students draw conclusions about which shape(s) is strongest from information gathered from their explorations. 

Coconstructed Learning
Students: Saying, Doing, Representing 
Educator: Interactions: Responding, Challenging 

Students take a neighbourhood walk to explore natural and humanmade structures in the environment. 

Students identify shapes used in animal and humanmade structures found in the environment. Students identify patterns in the shapes found in different structures. 

Students use materials provided to create different 2D and 3D structures (e.g. triangles, squares, rectangles, cubes, pyramids, rectangular prisms, etc.). 

Students test the strength and stability of the structures created by pulling apart and pushing together opposite corners. 

Students investigate how adding diagonals (i.e., triangles) will affect the strength and stability of the structures. 

Students explore the strength of diagonals/triangles in structures by exploring how triangles impact their own stability. 

Students use the materials provided to test the strength of the structural shapes they have constructed. 

Students draw conclusions about which shape(s) is strongest from information gathered from their explorations. 

Crosscurricular Connections
Literacy
 Demonstrate an understanding of information and ideas by retelling (e.g., communicate ideas on shapes and structures in their environment)
 Use appropriate subjectspecific vocabulary (e.g., use words such as structure, cylindrical, humanbuilt, natural) when discussing shapes and structures in the environment
 Use processing skills to form conclusions (e.g., about which shape is strongest)
Mathematical Thinking
 Recognize, explore, describe, and compare geometric shapes and structures (e.g., 2D and 3D  triangles, squares, rectangles, cubes, pyramids, etc.)
 Measure and record mass objects using standard units (e.g., use standard a standard weight to test shapes/structures)
Crosscurricular Connections
Literacy
 Demonstrate an understanding of information and ideas by retelling (e.g., communicate ideas on shapes and structures in their environment)
 Use appropriate subjectspecific vocabulary (e.g., use words such as structure, cylindrical, humanbuilt, natural) when discussing shapes and structures in the environment
 Use processing skills to form conclusions (e.g., about which shape is strongest)
Mathematical Thinking
 Recognize, explore, describe, and compare geometric shapes and structures (e.g., 2D and 3D  triangles, squares, rectangles, cubes, pyramids, etc.)
 Measure and record mass objects using standard units (e.g., use standard a standard weight to test shapes/structures)
Extending the Learning
If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:
 Provide students with pictures of wellknown humanmade structures in Canada and the world (e.g., the CN Tower, Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Golden Gate Bridge). Students compare and contrast the structures (e.g., What shapes do they see? What do they notice about the foundation or base of each of them?) Those who are interested may wish to find out more about the structures and some of the engineering challenges of designing and building them.
 Students may prefer to explore structures constructed by animals (e.g., bird nests, beaver dams, bees nest, ant hills, etc.). Students can compare and contrast the shapes, materials and purpose of these animalmade structures to those made by humans.
Extending the Learning
If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:
 Provide students with pictures of wellknown humanmade structures in Canada and the world (e.g., the CN Tower, Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Golden Gate Bridge). Students compare and contrast the structures (e.g., What shapes do they see? What do they notice about the foundation or base of each of them?) Those who are interested may wish to find out more about the structures and some of the engineering challenges of designing and building them.
 Students may prefer to explore structures constructed by animals (e.g., bird nests, beaver dams, bees nest, ant hills, etc.). Students can compare and contrast the shapes, materials and purpose of these animalmade structures to those made by humans.
Supporting Media
Shaping Up Summer
by Lizann Flatt
Numbers, patterns, shapes — and much more! — can be found in everyday in the natural world What if animals and plants knew math, just like us? Nature comes to life to help children grasp concepts of geometry, symmetry, and spatial sense.
ISBN: 9781926973876
Dreaming Up
by Christy Hale
A collection of illustrations, concrete poetry, and photographs that shows how young children's constructions, created as they play, are reflected in notable works of architecture from around the world.
ISBN: 9781600606519
Shapes in math, science and nature
by Catherine Sheldrick Ross
Full of fascinating facts about these shapes and their 3D counterparts, Shapes in Math, Science and Nature introduces young readers to the basics of geometry and reveals its applications at home, school and everywhere in between.
ISBN 9781771381246
Structures: Historical
11 images of structures with historical significance from different civilizations such as pyramids, statues on Easter Island and Stonehenge.
Birds: Nests
10 images of some birds' nests showing various designs, structures and materials used for building them.
Supporting Media
Shaping Up Summer
by Lizann Flatt
Numbers, patterns, shapes — and much more! — can be found in everyday in the natural world What if animals and plants knew math, just like us? Nature comes to life to help children grasp concepts of geometry, symmetry, and spatial sense.
ISBN: 9781926973876
Dreaming Up
by Christy Hale
A collection of illustrations, concrete poetry, and photographs that shows how young children's constructions, created as they play, are reflected in notable works of architecture from around the world.
ISBN: 9781600606519
Shapes in math, science and nature
by Catherine Sheldrick Ross
Full of fascinating facts about these shapes and their 3D counterparts, Shapes in Math, Science and Nature introduces young readers to the basics of geometry and reveals its applications at home, school and everywhere in between.
ISBN 9781771381246
Structures: Historical
11 images of structures with historical significance from different civilizations such as pyramids, statues on Easter Island and Stonehenge.
Birds: Nests
10 images of some birds' nests showing various designs, structures and materials used for building them.
Learn More
Architectural Elements  Buffalo Architecture Foundation (PDF presentation)
BUILDING STRONG SHAPES. What is the strongest geometric shape?. There are several shapes that are used when strength is important
Balancing Act  Sick Science! #127 (2013, Video on YouTube)
Sick Science! (1:22 min.) If someone told you that they could balance a fullsize text book on a piece of paper, you might call up the looney bin. That's a crazy idea, right? Well, the notion that a book can sit, precariously, atop a plain piece of paper isn't quite as bonkers as you might think!
Learn More
Architectural Elements  Buffalo Architecture Foundation (PDF presentation)
BUILDING STRONG SHAPES. What is the strongest geometric shape?. There are several shapes that are used when strength is important
Balancing Act  Sick Science! #127 (2013, Video on YouTube)
Sick Science! (1:22 min.) If someone told you that they could balance a fullsize text book on a piece of paper, you might call up the looney bin. That's a crazy idea, right? Well, the notion that a book can sit, precariously, atop a plain piece of paper isn't quite as bonkers as you might think!