There’s a wealth of apps out there for learning about 3D shapes and their properties. I’ve recently delivered a sequence of lessons covering this objective and found a range of different digital approaches to work successfully. I do think that it’s important to mix up your approach to a topic and keep students on their toes. Not every lesson can become “make an ebook” if you expect them to stay engaged!
So what I’m going to do here is outline some of the different approaches I’ve used. To keep things both concise and consistent, I’m going to focus on one of the very first 3D shapes that kids are introduced to – the cube.
The practical approach
As much as I love the iPad and the wealth of digital learning opportunities it offers, it would be remiss to discard practical learning opportunities. If you have physical 3D shapes (many schools have plastic sets) then definitely put them to some use. In this instance, the iPad can be harnessed as an analytical tool. Fire up an app like Explain Everything and take a picture of the shape then annotate the image to show its properties.
Even better – go grab the excellent iVisualiser from Alan Peat and you can annotate the shape live on video. This is particularly effective for 3D rather than 2D shapes as they can be manipulated on the screen to show multiple angles and all three dimensions in full.
The constructive approach
I used to use CubeeCraft figures a lot when covering 3D shapes. These pop culture infused papercraft figures proved an excellent incentive for hard work when given away as rewards. I’d also display the figures that they constructed with speech bubbles tagged to them saying things like “my head has 8 vertices.”
One iPad based approach to this kind of craft activity would be to use the excellent Folidfy app to build 3D shapes (or even characters composed of multiple shapes) and then print them off for construction. The app works in split-screen with the 3D model on the left and fully rotatable whilst the net is laid out on the right for you to create your design on.
A simple way to use this would be to have the students stick a photo of themselves on one side of the cube then label the key properties across the other faces. A more detailed project could be to build a full character and then label the back of each part with a list of its properties
The gamified approach
Another approach I’ve used over the last few years when covering shapes is to create Top Trump style cards and then have the students play against each other, comparing the various properties. The official Top Trump It app is perfect for this as they can generate a slick set of cards very quickly using the three core criteria: number of faces, number of edges, and number of vertices.
Complete the cards by taking pictures of the physical shapes if you have them or source images online if not. Save the finished cards out to the camera roll and they can be played with directly from there (scoring points rather than actually trading the cards over.) Another thing you can do of course is print the set of images out and use them practically. They also make a cool classroom display!
The digital approach
About three years ago I was shown a wonderful app for learning about 3D shapes called Solids Elementary. These days it is called Shapes – 3D Geometry Learning but it’s still my go-to app for this topic. There are other apps available of course but this one really does have it all and in fact has added some new features that elevate it even further.
Within the app you can view and manipulate a huge range of 3D shapes. You can highlight edges and vertices as well as make the faces translucent so that it can be seen in a wireframe style view. That’s just the start though as you can actually unfold it into its net. Not just one net either – if the shape has multiple nets then you can switch to any of them and see how that works too. This really is an example of tech allowing for something that would previously have been impossible - well, at least without a LOT of disposable shapes made in advance! You can even highlight one of the faces so that you can identify and track its position as the unfolding takes place.
Then there’s the Nets Creator mode – one of the newer additions I mentioned earlier. This is outstanding as it challenges kids to try and build working nest of shapes and lets them test them out to see their errors and refine their designs. It even adds any correct ones they successfully build into the net lists in the main section of the app.
This sort of thing is possible with the sort of click together plastic sets that some schools invest in – but there’s never enough for them all to use it at the same time! Even if you had some of these practical tools, they could be shared out to less able students as a support system.
Oh and by the way - this app also has the ability to print off the nets directly for practical construction. It really does have it all!
The block building approach
Ok so this one is particularly suited to learning about the cube. Apps like Bloxy World or Block Builder 3D (or even the ubiquitous Minecraft) contain digital cubes that can be manipulated and stacked as a part of a study of 3D shapes. Students could form larger cubes from sets and note down lengths of edges, surface area of faces etc. They could then screengrab images out for annotation in other apps
We are heading towards a different learning objective here (ie Volume of 3D shapes) but then again if you have more able students who are already confident with the basic properties of 3D shapes, this sure beats sticking them on a worksheet!
The AR approach
Arloon’s augmented reality app – Arloon Geometry - is another one I’ve been using for a while now. Like all AR apps, it’s obvious appeal is the instant WOW factor that you get from using this kind of tech (especially with kids who haven’t seen it before.) It is worth a lot more than this though. The shapes can be highlighted and unfolded much like with Shapes – 3D Geometry Learning. Of course it’s one thing watching it on screen but a whole other thing watching it happen on the palm of your own hand!
My tip would be to print the trigger icon on card rather than paper. This allows students to pick the card up and manipulate the image in mid-air without fear of the paper flopping and the iPad losing the image. You can also get away with shrinking it and it will still work. I actually let my last class stick the trigger cards into their maths exercise book alongside the other work so that they could access it again when they took their books home later in the year.
The app actually goes even further with the ability to access quizzes and even calculate areas and volumes. These are quite advanced though so probably better suited to older students.
That’s all for now then folks. Hope you found something useful or new to explore in there. Feel free to shoot us a message on Facebook or Twitter if you have any questions about the apps or ideas mentioned here.
Til next time
PS anyone get the obscure movie reference of the title? Who doesn’t love a good 80s skateboard flick?