Geometry Birds

Most teachers would agree that making math relevant and engaging is important. Utilizing student interest in a math lesson can turn a good lesson into a great lesson. Moreover, the lesson will be memorable for the student – even after the assessment. An example of this type of lesson can be found here. Over the past year I’ve seen many Twitter posts (and publication articles) regarding how to use Angry Birds in the classroom. I understand that this game can be used for a physics discussion, but since I teach at the elementary level, I often skimmed those types of posts and looked for some type of way to integrate this extremely popular game into my classroom.

Even at the elementary level, students are intrigued and can tell me all about the game itself, from strategy to cheat codes.  I feel that part of my job is to engage students in meaningful learning.  Last weekend I came across a blog that led to this site that shows how Angry Birds can be used to teach geometry concepts at the elementary level.  The site even had colorful PDFs that I could print to make this activity realistic.  I utilized this activity for my third grade class.

Here are the steps:

1.)  I printed out the PDFs and had my students create all of the different geometric solids. Here are the pdfs (1) (2).

2.)  I showed students different types of solids.  I also brought out the manipulatives found below.

3.)  I then reviewed the following vocabulary words:  vertices, faces, edges, and surface area.

4.)  Students were given an opportunity to pick the net of one particular bird.  Here’s an example:

5.)  Students used scissors and glue sticks to build their particular bird.

6.)  Once finished, students were asked to fill out an exit card regarding the amount of edges, vertices, and faces of the particular bird that they created.

7.)  The birds were then posted in the classroom.  The pictures are below.

Shaving Cream and Math

Image by:  Salvatore

I’m always trying to find new ways to make math interesting and relevant. Generally, the more interested the students are in the instruction, the more willing they are to apply their learning.  This past week I used one common household item to teach my elementary math class about number lines.  I’m not the only teacher who has used this strategy in the classroom, but I’ve found encouraging results by doing so, that’s why I’m sharing.  I’ve provided a few pictures for those (like me) who need a visual representation before putting a strategy into practice.


1.)  Have all the students clear their desks.  There shouldn’t be anything on the desks, including pencils, water bottles, etc.  During this time students get a little anxious in wondering what’s going to happen next.

2.)  The teacher takes out one or two bottles of shaving cream.   I used Babaso, available at the Dollar Tree.  This works much better than some of the more expensive shaving creams.

3.)  The teacher asks the students to predict how the class will be using the shaving cream to learn about math.  You might get some interesting responses with that question.  This may also gains student interest.

4.)  Go over the ground rules.  Everyone should roll up their sleeves, don’t fling the shaving cream at anyone in the class, don’t touch the shaving cream until directed, no one gets out of their seat, etc.

5.)  Go to each desk and spray a bit of shaving cream (4-5 seconds) in the middle of each desk.

6.)  Tell the students that they will be given a few minutes to “play” with the shaving cream.  Ask the students to make different types of polygons, rays, lines, etc. with the shaving cream.

7.)  The teacher models a few number lines on the whiteboard.  Students are asked to create their own number lines.  Ask the students to create multiple number lines.  Once a student creates a number line, the teacher reviews the work (could be a great opportunity to take a picture), gives the student a bit more shaving cream and then looks for another finished project.

8.)  At the end of this project there are a lot of sticky fingers.  The teacher hands out wet wipes or wet paper towels to the students.  The students clean their own desk and hands.

9.)  Before the students leave class, or sometime in the near future, the teacher asks the students to create three additional number lines (addition, subtraction, multiplication) on paper and turn their work into the teacher.

More Examples:

Shaving Cream and Math Ideas

Greenfield Exempt Schools

Mrs. Clayton’s Class Blog – Using Shaving Cream

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) : The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.

Making Math Relevant and Engaging

I noticed a theme while observing an educational math chat on Twitter.  Many of the participants spoke of how math and reading don’t necessarily have the same “emotional knee-jerk reaction” in education or at home.  One tweet I remember reading stated that there isn’t a math equivalent to reading a bedtime story, emphasis on reading.  As far as I know, there is no such thing as a math before bedtime.  Reading often takes precedence over math, especially at the elementary level.  Reading / Language Arts often requires or is mandated to take 1 1/2 – 2 times as much time as math. Don’t misinterpret what I’m writing here – reading is essential and absolutely needed.  I’m advocating for the math crowd – the people who despise hearing the words “I hate math” coming from anyone.  Math has received a stigma over time and there are even adults (you may be one of them)  who can’t stand thinking about math.  An interesting perspective comes from Michael Schultz in his recent blog post.  As you can imagine people dislike math for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many adults remember math as one of the least favorite subjects in school.  Their math teachers were less than stellar and used (and only used) the text book for all math instruction.  How do educators and administrators decrease the negative stigma associated with math?  I believe removing the stigma starts before and during elementary school.  Educators need to make math relevant and engaging.  How does that happen at the elementary level?

Use Manipulatives

Educators understand the often use manipulatives to increase student engagement, especially when introducing a topic.  Looking back at my own experience,  the times I enjoyed or expressed interest in math were when my teacher used manipulatives in the classroom.  Using manipulatives creates student engagement, which often leads to increased learning.  I still remember using the base-ten blocks and geometric solids to learn math back in the day. A couple specific examples:

Base ten-blocks

Balances – Mathfour video

Use Technology

Students use technology everyday.  But teachers need to appropriately (that’s key) utilize technology to increase student learning.  Most curriculum publishers have a technology component (like math games or instruction slides to show students) already part of their program.  There is a wealth of knowledge and information available online for teachers to use.  Personally, I’ve used Youtube, Power Point, Audacity, Google Docs, Movie Maker, and Flip Cam regularly.  There are many more tools available to use – I just wrote down what what was used last year.  I’ve placed a few links below if you’re looking additional content. Using Google Docs

Multimedia in Mathematics –

Use Practical Examples and Show Relevancy

Students are much more motivated to complete problems that are relevant and applicable to their lives.  A student wants to know why they are learning specific math concepts.  If students aren’t sure about where or how to apply what they are learning, what motivation is there to stay engaged?  Finding practical math problems is important and gives students an opportunity to apply their learning.  Even having students create and solve their own problems is a good start. Students need to understand that what they are learning in math class is relevant.    I tend to show my students the following video from IBM.  Also, during the first week of school I generally show the students a macro picture of what they will be learning throughout the year and what skills that they will need to proceed through each unit.

IBM Math Commerical

I also ask the students the following questions:

  • Can I think of a story problem where I could apply this concept?
  • How will learning this help me in the future?

Play Games

Play games?  Are you kidding?  I think at times, educators and administrators downplay the importance of playing mathematical games.  Games give students an opportunity to use learned skills, such as, but not limited to:  numeracy, collaborative teamwork, and critical thinking skills. There are online math games and boardgames that are relevant to what is being taught in the classrooms.  For example, games like Battleship can help teach algebra quadrants and axis. An example: Board Games

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) :  The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.

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