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Geometry: A Look at Shapes in Elementary Education

Sarah Game, Theresa Heppler, Allan Hardy, Laura Richardson, and Darren Vaughan

January 28 th , 2009 EDUC 4274 Dan Jarvis


Geometry is important within the k-6 mathematics curriculum for several reasons. First, it can be integrated with the other mathematics strands. For example, in measurement students can measure the sides and angles of shapes. Second, shapes come into play in our every-day life. From home improvements to architecture we see and use geometric shapes in a variety of ways. Third, geometry is often overlooked within the classroom even though it “is an area of study that many students and teachers enjoy because it offers such a wide range of opportunities for hands on exploration” (Small, 2008, 284). Finally, we believe geometry is an important strand of mathematics because it is an essential part of our lives and often we take our knowledge for geometry for granted. It is imperative that we as teachers do not overlook geometry and ensure we expose the students to this very important topic.


The following is a list of common misconceptions and errors about geometry:

Error or misconception


What teachers can do


Students often confuse the names of 2D and 3D shapes

Provide opportunities to compare and contrast shapes that are likely to be confused. Ask students to tell how they are different.

Components of shapes

Students might confuse the names of components of 3D shapes

Emphasize the correct terminology

Counting components of 3D shapes

Having trouble counting vertices, edges, and faces

Ask them to mark a starting point from where they count. Use of concrete objects.

Identifying the base of a prism

Students have trouble identifying the base of the prism

Build prisms by stacking pattern blocks and emphasize that the base is not a rectangle

Congruent edges on nets

They eyeball the shape and find that nets don’t fold properly because they don’t take into account to match

Encourage students to measure the edges of the shape they plan to duplicate.


congruent edges


Attributes and properties

They confuse attributes of shapes with their properties

They need the opportunity to explore each shape in many different forms and provide opportunities for students to examine and sort them

Changes in orientation

Students think the way a shape is oriented is part of what defines it.

Working with concrete shapes such as pattern blocks and models to show shapes can be shown in different ways.

Parallelogram and reflective symmetry

Students think the diagonal of a parallelogram is the line of symmetry

Provide many opportunities to test for symmetry by folding and using a transparent mirror.

Group Members Thoughts and Reflections

(Small, 2008, 322-325)

Laura Richardson

I have found that geometry is overlooked and underappreciated in schools and throughout our daily lives. While I was on my placement, I noticed that there were pictures of two dimensional and three dimensional shapes above and below the math board. These pictures were in an awkward spot and during my time there, they were never discussed. I personally disregarded them, as well as my associate teacher. After reading the text and finding information about geometry, I am aware of how present shapes are in the curriculum and in many professions. I can see how many teachers leave geometry until the end of the year to teach. One may see it as an easy topic to teach. Based on what I know now I would introduce geometry at the beginning of the year, because geometry can be linked to so many subjects and integrated into other math topics.

Darren Vaughan

Geometry to me has always been an exciting topic. I can remember back to my primary/junior years, I would be very enthusiastic and excited when we would get out the manipulative for geometry. In saying that, one of the biggest factors in teaching this subject area is the use of concrete materials. I have always been a hands-on learner and am well aware of the

importance of incorporating manipulatives into these lessons.

but we have to be sure to teach it a number of ways (including hands-on), as educators it is vital

that we realize that a number of our students may need concrete figures and shapes

Geometry is a fascinating subject

(manipulatives) to help them gain the knowledge and understanding of this very important subject.

Sarah Game

After researching geometric shapes, I feel that I have a better appreciation for this strand of math. It seems to me that as adults we take for granted our knowledge of shapes and I feel that children should be taught about 2-D shapes and 3-D figures because they are relevant within the classroom and without. Geometry is a strand of math which can be related to tangible objects that students can see and touch, making this type of math more concrete for students to understand. Shapes can also be the basis for cross curricular activities as well which makes shapes, 2-D or 3-D, valuable learning tools. I see the importance in the subject area and also feel that shapes can be difficult for students to correctly identify and understand because there are so many similarities between them. Since terminology and concepts can be quite confusing, especially for younger students, I believe that plenty of time must be allotted in long range plans for the Geometry and Spatial Sense unit. In my research, I found a number of educational websites which would be beneficial to all students and feel that if computers can be integrated into lessons it would be a great way for students to practice sorting shapes, learn new vocabulary, examine attributes and properties of shapes and it would also be a fun introduction to geometry. I know from experience, in my grade one placement class, that shapes interest students and if hands on activities and a variety of manipulatives are used, students can grasp concepts faster and they retain the new information more than if shapes were just drawn on a worksheet. This is the beauty of this strand, it allows for so many interactive activities and there are so many different ways that geometry can be taught that it is fun for students while they still learn important concepts

Allan Hardy

After reading about Geometry and teaching some geometry concepts on practicum I have come to realize that this is an enjoyable and important topic to teach. During my practicum I was shocked to discover that Geometry was not going to be part of this class’s unit test. In fact, we did not spend very much time on this topic at all. This was disappointing considering how much fun geometry can be and how important it is to math education. Using manipulatives and technology is key to many math topics but especially geometry. Relating geometry directly to the student is also extremely important when it comes to understanding. Overall, I have come to realize that learning geometry in a variety of fun and exciting ways is much needed in elementary mathematics and should be taught in every classroom.

Theresa Heppler

I believe that geometry and special sense are one of the most over looked and undervalued subjects within mathematics. At the same time geometry can be one of the most interesting and exciting for students to learn at the elementary level. The level of excitement

students experience is because of the hands on nature of geometry as well as the student’s ability to relate geometry to their everyday life. When students believe that the information they are learning is useful outside of the classroom, they are more likely to be interested in what is being taught. Manipulatives including pattern blocks, nets, cubes, miras, and geo-boards are fantastic resources to enhance the geometry unit allowing students to learn in a hands on and exciting manner. Geometry and special sense should be treated as important as every other mathematical topic within the curriculum. As a teacher I will be certain to expose students to all topics of mathematics to ensure they are educated in a well rounded manner.

Developmental Analysis


Previous Grade

Current Grade

Following Grade

Shape Bingo


Grade 1

Grade 2

Explore, sort, and compare traditional and non-traditional two-dimensional shapes and three- dimensional figures.

Identify common two- dimensional shapes and three-dimensional figures and sort and classify them by their attributes

Distinguish between the attributes of an object that are geometric properties and the attributes that are not geometric properties.

Identify and describe, using common geometric terms, two- dimensional shapes (e.g., triangle) and three-dimensional figures (e.g., cone) through investigations with concrete materials

Identify and describe various polygons and sort and classify them by their geometric properties.

Identify and describe various three- dimensional figures.


Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Building 3D skeletons with marshmallows

Compare two dimensional and three-dimensional figures and sort them by their geometric properties.

Geometric relationships. Construct skeletons of three-dimensional figures using a variety of tools (toothpicks and marshmallows)

Identify and classify two-dimensional shapes by side and angle properties and compare and sort three-dimensional figures.

Constructing 3-D nets

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Construct rectangular prisms and describe geometric properties of the prisms (using paper nets)

Construct prisms and pyramids from given nets.

Identify prisms and pyramids from their nets.

Draw and describe nets of rectangular and triangular prisms.

Construct nets of prisms and pyramids using a variety of tools.

Guess the prism

Grade 2

Grade 3

Grade 4

Build a structure using three- dimensional figures and describe the two- dimensional shapes and the three- dimensional figures in the structure

Identify and describe the two dimensional shapes that can be found in a three dimensional figure

Construct a three dimensional figure from the picture or model of the figure using connecting cubes.

Construct skeletons and three dimensional figures using a variety of tools and sketch the skeletons.


Shape Bingo

Grade One Overall Expectation: Identify common two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional figures and sort and classify them by their attributes.

Specific Expectation: Identify and describe common two dimensional shapes (e.g. circle, triangles, rectangles, squares) and sort and classify them by their attributes (e.g. color; size; texture; number of sides), using concrete materials and pictorial representations. Identify and describe common three dimensional figures (e.g. cubes, cones, cylinders, spheres, rectangular prisms) and sort and classify them by their attributes (e.g. color; size; texture; number and shape of faces), using concrete materials and pictorial representations.

Shape Bingo Lesson (Grade 1):

Explain and visually show the students they need to only have one kind of shape under each BINGO letter.

Have them cut and paste the two and three dimensional shapes to their bingo sheets.

Make sure to check the cards before beginning the game.

If a child has made a mistake, have them cover the incorrect shape with a left over shape.

Give them bingo chips to cover the shapes that are called.

When calling the two and three dimensional shapes have a large visual of the shape with the name.

This covers Stage 1: Visualizations - recognizing /naming figures / “look like”

Talk about faces (flat surface), edges (lines of the shape), vertices (the points of the shape) when showing and calling the shape.

It is good to have them work with both 2d and 3d shapes.

For older grades: First, call out all the components of the shapes.

think about what shape it might be and then show and tell them the shape you are talking about.

Give the class a minute to


This activity is hands on and has many visuals for the students to follow (ESL learners would benefit from this).

Some children in your class may need a premade BINGO card, to avoid having them cut and paste the shapes.

For special needs students that could not take part in this activity, I would have them help me at the front of the room holding and calling out the shapes.

For gifted students, I would give them the shape and they would have to explain the attributes before telling the class what the shape is.

(Please see the appendix for shape bingo templates)

Building 3D skeletons

Expectations: Geometry and Spatial Sense Geometric Relationships

of three-dimensional figures, using a variety of tools (e.g., straws and modeling clay, toothpicks

– construct skeletons

and marshmallows), and sketch the skeletons;

Accommodations: Students who are physically unable to use the concrete materials will be

assigned to work with an elbow partner.

constructed depending on their comprehension level.

Teacher will determine what shapes/figures will be


Round toothpicks Miniature marshmallows (mildly stale)


In the center of the work surface (table or grouped desks), each group will have sufficient marshmallows and toothpicks for construction of models.

Demonstrate how to connect a toothpick to a marshmallow without pushing the toothpick all the way through the marshmallow.

Ask each student to construct a triangle from three toothpicks and three marshmallows.

Have some students describe their models to the class.

Ask each student to construct a square from four toothpicks and four marshmallows.

Have students explain the difference between a square and a triangle.

Allow students to compare their triangles and squares to find the components of each shape (vertex, face, edge)

In implementing this lesson for the use in higher grades, the teacher will incorporate different 3D shapes including cubes, pyramids etc.

To conclude this exercise and check for student comprehension, Teacher will dictate a number of shapes and their components. Next the students will have to model each shape using the marshmallows and toothpicks (e.g., It has 4 vertices, 4 faces and 6 edges)

toothpicks (e.g., It has 4 vertices, 4 faces and 6 edges) Constructing 3D Nets Using what
toothpicks (e.g., It has 4 vertices, 4 faces and 6 edges) Constructing 3D Nets Using what
toothpicks (e.g., It has 4 vertices, 4 faces and 6 edges) Constructing 3D Nets Using what

Constructing 3D Nets

It has 4 vertices, 4 faces and 6 edges) Constructing 3D Nets Using what is called

Using what is called a net, students will build 3D shapes out of paper. The net looks like a flattened 3D shape and displays the faces that would be seen in the 3D version of the shape. For the purpose of this in class activity we have cut out the nets for you, within the classroom we would not do this. In grade 4 students are expected to build 3D shapes out of nets provided by the teacher. In grade 5 students are required to draw their own nets and then build them into 3D shapes.

Specific Expectation Grade 4:

construct prisms and pyramids from given nets

Identify and describe prisms and pyramids and classify them by their geometric properties (i.e. vertices and edges) Specific Expectations Grade 5:

Student will draw nets of prisms and pyramids

Identify prisms and pyramids from their nets Accommodations:

Allow students to use tape to create nets, much easier than using glue

Cut out and fold nets for students

Assist students in filling out ‘Qualities of Your Shape’ sheet Materials Required:

3D shape nets




(Please see the Appendix for templates of nets)

Guess the Prism

Grade 3: Geometry and Spatial Sense

Expectation: Geometric Relationships: Identify and describe the two-dimensional shapes that can be found in a three-dimensional figure ( Sample Problem: Build a structure from blocks, toothpicks, or other concrete materials, and describe it using geometric terms, so that your partner will be able to build your structure without seeing it)


Triangular, rectangular, hexagonal, pentagonal, and square pattern blocks

2 folders per pair, paper clipped and fastened so that they stand like a barrier between students



Place the folder barrier in between pairs of students.


Ask one partner to create a prism using the pattern blocks


The other partner must asked the first questions ( using proper geometric terminology) so that they can figure out the 2-d shapes making up the 3-d model Ex. “How many faces does the first 2-d shape have?”


When the partner has guessed what sort of 2-d shapes make up the 3-d shape, they can name the 3-d model and then they become the builder and the partner becomes questioner ( the roles are reversed)



Anecdotal notes: look for: proper use of terminology, accuracy, cooperation

Concept to stress: “One of the key concepts in geometry is that any shape can be created by either combining or dissecting other shapes” (Small, 2007, 309)

Notes from Small Text

Structures/models help students learn about symmetry; how the properties of shapes affect the way you use them.

can use pattern blocks to create models and pictures

Having students build prisms from stacks of pattern blocks may help them see that the block shape they use to start and end the prism is the base, and what the lateral faces on this type of prism are always rectangles. Emphasize that there are only two bases on a prism, and they may or may not be rectangles.

Other types of manipulative to use:

Tooth picks and modeling clay ( or marshmallows)

straws and pipe cleaners


Use cards instead of models. For example, if you can’t make a model pick a card that has a prism on it.

For students with hearing disabilities include cards with questions already prepared.

For students visually impaired this activity could be made completely oral. Also, 3D models can be used to touch.


Small, Marian. Making Math Meaningful. Vol. 1. United States: Nelson, 2008



Square Based Pyramid

Square Based Pyramid


B I N G O Free




Square Rectangle
Circle   Triangle   Square Rectangle




C y linder
C y linder



Rec tangular Prisms

Rec tan g ular Prisms  
Rec tan g ular Prisms  
Rec tan g ular Prisms  
Rec tan g ular Prisms  
Rec tan g ular Prisms