Not-your-usual-shape Lesson!

Not a box!

One of my favourite books is “Not a box” by Antoinette Portis. I love it because it reminds me of my own children who refuse to let us throw out boxes. They have all these great ideas of what the boxes can be turned into and although the mess drives me nuts, I’m always inspired by their creativity!

As a math teacher, I also love the book because it is a great spring-board for conversations about shapes as well as real-world applications. Here are some math talking points you could use to talk about the book:

  • Where is the box now in the drawing? (Can they still see a box shape when it is incorporated into a drawing?)
  • What would you have made out of the box? (Can they think of real-world applications?)
  • What shapes do you see in the box? (Do they connect it to squares and rectangles?)
  • What things could you NOT make with a box? (Understanding non-examples helps solidify the concept.)
  • What makes the box different from a rectangle or a square? [Is it fat (3D) or is it flat (2D)?]

My goal with these questions is to have students recognize some attributes that are unique to certain shapes as well as to have them make connections between shapes and the real-world. These can then lead to lines of inquiry such as: why are most buildings box-shaped? Why don’t tissues come in triangular boxes?! Or why are most drink containers ‘circle-shaped’ instead of box-shaped?

Not a shape!

After reading the book, I have the students pick a shape (always think differentiation!) and create a picture of their “Not a shape” idea! For kindergarten I started with the box (a 3D shape), but then we did examples with 2D shapes (because that is what they are learning). Here are some drawings my son came up with:

My favourite is the happy face…it is a self-portrait!

Not a Triangle!

Math4Love has many great activities and lots of them for free. I like their “not a triangle” game, although I adapted the rules a little for kindergarten. The goal of the game is to NOT make a triangle. Each player takes a turn to draw a straight line between two of the points. In my version, they have to work together to create a shape, but it can’t be a triangle. Here is a video of Rory and I playing the game.

I love this game because students see that shapes can be irregular (all sides aren’t equal) which is sometimes overlooked especially in the early years. Teachers often concentrate on shape recognition of regular shapes, but it is important for students to learn that polygons don’t always look ‘nice’.  The other great thing about this game is the opportunity for extensions. Can the kids name the shapes they created? What shapes can you NOT make with the 6 dots? What if the dots were in different places? How many different shapes can you make? What if we played a game with more dots or less dots? Would it be easier or harder? What about playing, ‘Don’t make a rectangle’? Is it easier or harder?

I can’t find their original post of the game, so here is the copy I downloaded (click here), but all credit goes to Math4Love! When I did this lesson with a full class of  kindergarten students, the conversations were rich and rewarding. They talked about regular and irregular shapes, names of shapes, what constitutes a polygon, how many lines can meet at a corner, straight lines versus curvy lines; all important learnings about shapes while trying not to make a triangle!

The sign of a good mathematician is one that can reason with you about WHY something is the way it is. They haven’t just memorized a rule and are regurgitating it, they have made deep connections with the concepts and can justify their thinking. So if my students can explain why something is NOT a certain shape, then they have a true understanding of what attributes DO make that shape.

Have other unique ideas for shape lessons? Leave them in the comment section below!

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