Outdoor Maths: Creating 3D Shapes from Sticks

21 March 2012 · 0 comments

in Maths Outdoors

I love learning outside for many reasons, not least because I’m a seeker of “Divine Aha!” moments. This is when the light dawns or a spark of an idea catches alight and sets my mind on fire.

Earlier this year, I was browsing the Muddy Faces website. This is THE online shopping website for Forest School equipment and contains all sorts of exciting things that even a DIY store can’t match. Sitting in one section was a cube made from sticks.



In the past I had made nets from bamboo canes. I have to tell you that they are the poor relatives of real sticks. The bamboo is tricky to link together, even using the balls and connectors that are commercially available. In the past I’d used lot of masking tape with classes and created a lot of frustration when using bamboo.

What is interesting is that the metre-long sticks come with pre-drilled holes in either end. This means that little fingers can use washing line to tie the sticks together without having to know their lashing knots beforehand. Suddenly this increases the potential for creating dens from sticks. Different structures can be experimented with and in the process children are learning about the structure of 3D shapes as well as the technology aspects of den building.

Last Friday, at the Grounds for Learning NatNet Conference, one group of participants had to create the biggest 3D shape using the 1-metre sticks which would hold its shape and not collapse.

Whilst investigating 3D nets is an upper primary activity by tradition, I’m sure many pre-school practitioners would agree that this sort of challenge is something that some younger children really enjoy. I’ve noticed this before when working on maths challenges outside. It seems that upper primary expectations are best begun in a play context earlier on which enables children to have the pre-requisite concrete experiences. In turn this leads to understanding, creating and applying the skills learned once the children become older. Furthermore this is far more challenging than a set of plastic polyhedrons that click together which is often the norm in many classrooms.

A natural progression from simply building 3D structures is to create their 2D nets on the ground before hand and move this into a 3D structure. Remember there are 11 possibilities alone for a cube!

So once again, sticks are making maths ever-more interesting outside. Long may the creative potential of sticks be celebrated and enjoyed.

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