New Kids on the Block


This unit is suited to a small class at a school where large building blocks and wood off-cuts are readily available. Asking students to construct objects affords a prime time to observe and listen to their language as they build. Using blocks is a powerful medium for improving students' perception of objects and encourages creativity.

Achievement Objectives
GM1-2: Sort objects by their appearance.
Specific Learning Outcomes
  • Classify shapes into categories.
  • Discuss differences and likenesses of the shapes.
  • Explore, experiment and talk about the form and function of the shapes in their own language.
Description of Mathematics

Spatial understandings are necessary for interpreting and understanding our geometric environment. The emphasis in the early years in school should include: recognition and sorting of shapes, exploration of the shapes, and investigation of the properties of the shapes. In the van Hiele model of geometric thinking it is asserted that students move through five levels of understanding.  The first is an emergent one where students recognise shapes by their appearance rather than their characteristics.

It is the second level that this unit is centred around. This is the level where students differentiate specific properties of figures. For example, the number of sides a triangle has or the number of corners in a square. They recognise certain properties that make one shape different from others

The development of ideas about form and function can best be developed through actions (manipulating materials). This unit gives the students opportunities to develop their powers of observation, intuition, and imagination by exploration, experimentation, and discussion, mainly through the use of large blocks.

Children meet both flat and solid shapes within their environment and there is much discussion about which is easier to consider first. The students probably find exploring solid shapes more exciting and their earliest experiences are of a 3-dimensional nature but some educators feel that work with flat shapes should be done first. Both need to be explored extensively; and opportunities given for students to communicate their findings about shapes. This unit links the two through the use of photographs, pictures, flat and solid shapes.

Required Resource Materials
Large number of blocks and wood off-cuts of differing shapes and sizes.
Readers and photos showing buildings in progress, bridges.
Digital camera.

Session 1

In this session the students will explore the properties of 3-dimensional objects.

  1. In this session each child is given a solid shape and asked to make a statement about it.
    You may hear: My shape is round.  My shape has straight sides. My shape is flat. My shape is big.

  2. Listen to the descriptive words the students use and write some of them onto card.

                   flat   round   straight

  1. Ask the students to sort blocks according to their mathematical properties (colour is not a mathematical property).

  2. Ask the students to come up with their own classification or criteria for sorting.

Session 2

In this session the students will look at shapes used in buildings.

  1. Take the students for a walk to familiarise them with basic shapes seen in buildings at school.  Focus particularly on their form and function. 
    What do they look like? Can you describe them? What are they used for?  Why do you think they used that shape?
    You may hear:  “The side of the building is like a square with a triangle on top”.

  2. Show the students photographs of buildings around the school and ask if they can recognise them, eg. the ramp outside Room 4, the door into the staffroom, triangular eaves on the school hall, the back of the bike shed, etc.

  3. Write a class story about the shapes they have seen and put the photographs in as illustrations.

Session 3

In this session the students will discuss features of solid shapes needed for buildings.

  1. Read their class book from the day before.

  2. Look at the blocks again and ask them to imagine they are making a building. Discuss the features needed for those constructions (form and function).

  3. Discuss which would stack together, which would be good to make a bridge, a wall, a tower.

  4. In groups let the students build what they want and talk about their construction.
    Which part do you think is strong and why? Are there some parts that you need to fix up so that it won’t fall down if I jump up and down near it?
    What could your building be used for?

  5. Photograph their buildings and record some of their ideas about their construction. 

Session 4

In this session the students will look at books and photographs of buildings and again construct their own building. The students will photograph their own construction from different views.

  1. Put the students in groups and let them share readers or photographs which focus on buildings – frames for houses, triangular shapes for bridges, rectangular shapes for windows and doors.

  2. Allow the students time to read or look at the books and photographs. Encourage them to talk about the shapes they see in the books and see if they can find similar shapes in the classroom blocks.

  3. Let the students construct another building for a purpose and talk about the reasons for the use of the particular shapes in their construction.
    Their buildings need to be built so that they won’t collapse when put to a test. Some examples could be; a bridge the Tonka truck could go over, a tower that could hold 5 books, a ramp that a toy car could go right down.

  4. Children digitally photograph their model from top, front and back to be used later in their own group books.

Session 5

In this session the students will make and complete their group books for presentation to the class.

  1. Each draw and name different shapes they have used for their building and glue into their group books.

  2. Each student writes a statement (helped by teacher or aide) of how they used that shaped block.

  3. If the photos are developed stick them into their group books.

  4. Share with the class.

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