Tis the season for Christmas candy! To take advantage of all the gumdrop packages on the grocery shelves, the Creative Math Club went ahead and organized a gumdrops & toothpicks day. Each kid had two packages of gumdrops and a container of toothpicks to use, and we started our meeting by making 2D shapes with them–officially called regular polygons because the equal sized toothpicks make them automatically equilateral (all sides have same length) and equiangular (all sides have equal in measure).
I made a spreadsheet with 20 spaces for regular polygons, starting with a triangle. It also had spaces to fill in how many edges and vertices it had, as well as space for what the angles measured. Edges are the sides, denoted by how many toothpicks are used…vertices are where two sides meet up, denoted by how many gumdrops are used. Once the kids modeled a 2D shape, they measured the angles with a protractor and then they filled in the spreadsheet information.
The wikipedia article on regular polygons has the names for the polygons up through 20 sides, and then the names for even bigger polygons like the megagon.
I found it really fascinating to watch how the angular shapes changed the more toothpicks we used. A triangle opened up into a square, which opened up into hexagons and octagons. By the time we got to the 20 sided icosagon, it more closely resembled a circle. Those were used as necklaces and embellished into peace signs.
Once we were done investigating 2D polygons, we moved on to 3D polyhedron shapes. But! Not just ANY polyhedron shapes, we focused on the five platonic solids. I also made a spreadsheet for this, with spaces for the polyhedron name, how many edges, how many vertices, and how many faces it had. And then we went to town building, from simple to more complex. I used a hands on resource page, here, as a rough lesson plan.
(which apparently I forgot to take a picture of)
we talked about how Plato associated each of them with one of the four elements, and also how they were the shaped dice used for games like D&D (any kid who’s a gamer will enjoy this association a lot!)–those dice are actually called polyhedral dice that we use for most if not all of our math games!
Being creative math, I’m not promising that everyone filled in their spreadsheet 100%, or that there wasn’t a fair amount of creating other shapes going on. But I am promising that we all had a good time discovering shapes (2 and 3D) and characteristics using gumdrops & toothpicks!
If your kid really gets into hands on building with gumdrops, I highly recommend the Zometool, which is based on this kind of constructing, and it takes it into different interests like chemistry (making chemical reactions), biology (making viruses), etc. It’s a big hit over here.
Links to resources I used to prepare for this that I’ve bookmarked on delicious is here.
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