3D Shape Challenge


In preparation for September, I have been looking back at photos from our learning last year and reflecting on what made certain provocations successful (or not). In doing so, I came across a series of photos from an exploration we did on 3D shapes. This particular learning story caught my attention because I noticed how I had started with one question/idea for my students to explore and then changed it as I observed the children interacting with the materials.

In my first provocation, I asked the children if they could build a tower using 3D shapes. I put all the necessary materials at the math centre: clipboards, pencils/pens, sticky notes, an iPad, a basket of 3D solids. I also asked the children to self-document their learning with the iPad and/or the writing materials.


While several children visited the centre and were eager to share their learning about how they were able to stack the shapes (based on their properties), I noticed there was a group of children who didn’t seem interested in this centre at all. I usually encourage the children to self-select their centres based on their interests, but there are some centres which I would like all the children to try at some point. In my experience, most children will eventually want to come and see what a centre is all about, especially after we talk about it during reflection time and other children share their learning problems/successes. At the beginning of the week, however, I was starting to question whether or not my provocation/question for the students was engaging enough for all my learners. It became clear that some students may need more of a challenge.

During the course of our reflection time, we noticed that no one in the class had used a sphere in their tower. Why was this? The children all agreed that there was no way a sphere could be used in a tower design (“It’s too rolly polly!,” “It doesn’t have any flat sides!,” “It won’t balance.”). After this conversation, I issued a challenge to the class: let’s see if anyone can build a tower using ALL of the different 3D shapes. Interestingly, the group of children who had not been at all interested in visiting the math centre suddenly chose it as their first choice during discovery time. In fact, the math centre went from having two or three children in it at a time to being completely jam packed. It seems that in this case, some children needed the promise of a challenge to spark their interest and creativity.



The children discovered that indeed it was possible to build a tower using a sphere (“You have to put it at the top because nothing else will balance on it.”) and many interesting reflections were had about strategies for using all the shapes, how the properties of the shapes affected the planning process, and how the children were inspired by their classmates’ ideas.

DSC03431 DSC03432 DSC03433 DSC09069 DSC09074 DSC09075 DSC09076

It was interesting for me to look back on this exploration as a reminder that provocations evolve and change as the children engage (or in this case, don’t engage) with the materials I have provided for them. This is a part of my pedagogy I want to keep in mind as I make plans for the upcoming year.

For anyone who is interested, we also used a riddle song about the shapes to learn about their properties. You can find a link to the tune/lyrics here: http://webcheck-test.eharcourtschool.com/hspfw/review-hspmy/http/ma/math04_preview/se/nsmedia/activities/jingles/k_what_am_i.html

4 thoughts on “3D Shape Challenge

  1. I found your blog at the end of school last year and was so taken by your ideas that I immediately began introducing them into my classroom. To my delight the children responded wholeheartedly.
    I have been hoping that this fall you would talk some about how you begin the year instilling routines and provocations. This was a good beginning post for me. Thank you for sharing all that you do!

    • Hi Kevin! Thank you for the comment and the suggestion for some upcoming posts. I am moving to a new school this year so I will be documenting the set up of my new space later in August. I am also hoping to write about how September unfolds. Enjoy the rest of your summer! -Alexis

  2. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am new to inquiry education. Your blog has helped me to gain a better understanding of inquiry. It also has reassured me that I actually do have a handle on it. Thank you thank you thank you.

  3. Pingback: 3D Shape Challenge Blog Post | Concept Development in Math

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s