SCIENZ @ SCHOOL / Heart, mind, hand. Geometry meets children’s thinking

In the first years of primary school, it is important to promote the approach to content with laboratory activities in rich contexts. The narrative framework is among the most suitable for children’s world, physical construction of three-dimensional models stimulates observation and design, and the production of beautiful artifacts provides an irreplaceable direction to the work. The course presented expresses a truly interdisciplinary dimension, the result of teachers’ awareness, and testifies that the experience method allows children to reach important skills at different levels and in several areas in appropriately extended time.

The happy collaboration between primary school teachers gives rise to teaching activities so rich and interesting that they can really be considered exemplary “good practice”. The joint work between teachers working in different areas also provides an opportunity to bring different skills together (language, mathematics, geography, technology …).

The initial signal to the activity we want to talk about comes first in a class from wanting to propose a work with geometric content, placing it in a context suitable for children starting primary school: the narrative context. In recent years, we had already experienced how some stories are particularly well-suited to acquiring important skills in mathematics and in the representation of space. For example, the paths in the woods to Grandma’s house in the story of Little Red Riding Hood they are well suited to tackle a job on the routes.

Or in the story of The wolf and the seven children the interior of the house provided an opportunity to focus on the shapes and descriptions of three-dimensional environments. So among the classic fairy tales, we chose the story of Golden curls [1], we read the text and looked for clues regarding the space in which the story takes place. A first point is that both the characters and the objects described have a scale that refers to three dimensions: small, medium, large.

The project was developed in several phases, where different machining techniques and use of different materials alternated, which introduced some basic themes in the field of mathematics: for example, measurement as comparison, representation of three-dimensional space on the planet, rotations, changes of direction.

We draw the characters

We start by drawing, the children’s favorite activity. Based on the description of the text, we ask them to represent the three bear protagonists of the story, from the smallest to the largest. It is very interesting to see how children with drawing express how much they actually understand the story and how they imagine it. Purely mathematically, in order to represent the three bears together, it is necessary to have references that give an account of the relationship between their different heights. We therefore suggested graphic solutions, such as placing the feet of all the bears on the same ground line, marking a notch for the maximum height of Papa Bear and then the middle notch for Mamma Bear and Bear.

We then looked at other measures we need to keep in mind, such as the width of the body or the size of the heads: for example, the bear is not only shorter than father and mother, but it is also thinner and has a smaller head. If in the drawing of the bears we led the class in a joint work, we decided for the drawing of Guldlok to leave everyone free to solve a small problem: how to determine and draw the height of the girl with reference to the indications of the story? All the children drew it with a height corresponding to Orsettos, after observing that among the objects in the house which the intrusive girl chose to use was the “size” which corresponded to her and preferred, Teddys.


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Cristina Perversi (teacher at “Andrea Mandelli” Primary School in Milan)

The activity was carried out in the school years 2020-21 and 2021-2022, and was presented in the Mathematics Research Group at the Primary School at the Cultural Association “Il Rischio Educativo”, curated by Armida Panceri and Raffaella Manara.

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