Educational Resources Lets Talk Science Challenge participants

Student making structure with pasta and marshmallows

Student making structure with pasta and marshmallows (Jason Kasper [CC BY-SA], Wikimedia Commons)

It's All in the Shape

Let's Talk Science

Summary

Students develop and apply observing, comparing & contrasting and drawing conclusions skills as they learn about the strength of various shapes in structures.

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
60-90 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 human-made, 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?”
Bicycle on a forest path
Bicycle on a forest path (Source: Phillip M via Pexels).
Hanging bird nest
Hanging bird nest (Source: Hilde Swets via Pixabay).
Yurt tent
Yurt tent (Source: LoggaWiggler via Pixabay).
  • 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 human-made 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 human-made and animal-made structures always stay together? Do they always stay standing? Why do you think some structures fall apart or fall down?”
Cover of Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt
Cover of Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt (© 2019 Let’s Talk Science).

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.
Playground equipment
Playground equipment (Source: subsonip [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
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.
Playground equipment
Playground equipment (Source: subsonip [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
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 human-made 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 human-made 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.
Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Interactions: Responding, Challenging
Students take a neighbourhood walk to explore natural and human-made structures in the environment.
  • “What different kinds of structures did you observe during our walk? Which were made by humans? Which ones were made by animals?”
Students identify shapes used in animal- and human-made structures found in the environment.
Students identify patterns in the shapes found in different structures.
  • “What different shapes did you observe in the structures? Was there one shape that you saw more than others? Was this true of both animal- and human-made structures? Why do you think this shape is found so often in structures?”
Students use materials provided to create different 2D and 3D structures (e.g. triangles, squares, rectangles, cubes, pyramids, rectangular prisms, etc.).
  • “What can you tell me about the structures you have created?”
  • “What happens when we push and pull on the opposite corners of your structure?”
Students test the strength and stability of the structures created by pulling apart and pushing together opposite corners.
  • “What can we do to make these structures stronger?”
Students investigate how adding diagonals (i.e., triangles) will affect the strength and stability of the structures.
  • Where do you notice diagonals in the structures we saw on our walk? Where do you notice diagonals in the structures you build?”
Students explore the strength of diagonals/triangles in structures by exploring how triangles impact their own stability.
  • “When you were standing with your feet together, how did it feel when your partner gently pushed you?”
  • “When you stood with your legs apart, what happened when your partner gently pushed you?” (Students should notice that their bodies are much more stable.)
  • “What shape did your legs make with the floor?” (a triangle)
  • Educators share sayings with students that help them to remember about stability: “the bigger the base, the greater the stability”; “I’m stable like a table”; etc.
Students use the materials provided to test the strength of the structural shapes they have constructed.
  • “Which shape do you predict will be the strongest? What makes you think that?”
  • “How will you test your shapes to determine which one is strongest?”
  • “How will you record your information?”
  • “How will you make sure that your test is a fair one?”
Students draw conclusions about which shape(s) is strongest from information gathered from their explorations.
  • “What conclusion can you make from your tests?”
  • “What evidence do you have to prove your conclusion?”

 

Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Interactions: Responding, Challenging
Students take a neighbourhood walk to explore natural and human-made structures in the environment.
  • “What different kinds of structures did you observe during our walk? Which were made by humans? Which ones were made by animals?”
Students identify shapes used in animal- and human-made structures found in the environment.
Students identify patterns in the shapes found in different structures.
  • “What different shapes did you observe in the structures? Was there one shape that you saw more than others? Was this true of both animal- and human-made structures? Why do you think this shape is found so often in structures?”
Students use materials provided to create different 2D and 3D structures (e.g. triangles, squares, rectangles, cubes, pyramids, rectangular prisms, etc.).
  • “What can you tell me about the structures you have created?”
  • “What happens when we push and pull on the opposite corners of your structure?”
Students test the strength and stability of the structures created by pulling apart and pushing together opposite corners.
  • “What can we do to make these structures stronger?”
Students investigate how adding diagonals (i.e., triangles) will affect the strength and stability of the structures.
  • Where do you notice diagonals in the structures we saw on our walk? Where do you notice diagonals in the structures you build?”
Students explore the strength of diagonals/triangles in structures by exploring how triangles impact their own stability.
  • “When you were standing with your feet together, how did it feel when your partner gently pushed you?”
  • “When you stood with your legs apart, what happened when your partner gently pushed you?” (Students should notice that their bodies are much more stable.)
  • “What shape did your legs make with the floor?” (a triangle)
  • Educators share sayings with students that help them to remember about stability: “the bigger the base, the greater the stability”; “I’m stable like a table”; etc.
Students use the materials provided to test the strength of the structural shapes they have constructed.
  • “Which shape do you predict will be the strongest? What makes you think that?”
  • “How will you test your shapes to determine which one is strongest?”
  • “How will you record your information?”
  • “How will you make sure that your test is a fair one?”
Students draw conclusions about which shape(s) is strongest from information gathered from their explorations.
  • “What conclusion can you make from your tests?”
  • “What evidence do you have to prove your conclusion?”

 

Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Demonstrate an understanding of information and ideas by retelling (e.g., communicate ideas on shapes and structures in their environment)
  • Use appropriate subject-specific vocabulary (e.g., use words such as structure, cylindrical, human-built, 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)
Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Demonstrate an understanding of information and ideas by retelling (e.g., communicate ideas on shapes and structures in their environment)
  • Use appropriate subject-specific vocabulary (e.g., use words such as structure, cylindrical, human-built, 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 well-known human-made 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 animal-made structures to those made by humans.
CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario
CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario (Source: Wladyslaw [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Wasp nest
Wasp nest (Source: Bramfab [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Swan on nest made out of sticks
Swan on nest made out of sticks (Source: Michael Gaida via Pixabay).

 

Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Provide students with pictures of well-known human-made 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 animal-made structures to those made by humans.
CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario
CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario (Source: Wladyslaw [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Wasp nest
Wasp nest (Source: Bramfab [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Swan on nest made out of sticks
Swan on nest made out of sticks (Source: Michael Gaida via Pixabay).

 

Supporting Media
Cover of Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt
Cover of Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt (© 2019 Let’s Talk Science).

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

Cover of Dreaming Up by Christy Hale
Cover of Dreaming Up by Christy Hale (Source: Openlibrary).

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

Cover of Shapes in Math, Science and Nature by Catherine Sheldrick Ross
Cover of Shapes in Math, Science and Nature by Catherine Sheldrick Ross (Source: University of Manitoba).

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
Cover of Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt
Cover of Shaping Up Summer by Lizann Flatt (© 2019 Let’s Talk Science).

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

Cover of Dreaming Up by Christy Hale
Cover of Dreaming Up by Christy Hale (Source: Openlibrary).

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

Cover of Shapes in Math, Science and Nature by Catherine Sheldrick Ross
Cover of Shapes in Math, Science and Nature by Catherine Sheldrick Ross (Source: University of Manitoba).

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 full-size 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 full-size 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!