Using math, software to spark spatial reasoning, teamwork


Math teacher Minna Chanhboury at Kalakaua Middle is using the STEM Pre-Academy’s 3D modeling resources to create an engaging performance task for her 6th grade math students — understanding the net of common household boxes.

​​Feature Project: 3D Modeling and Construction at Kalakaua Middle

A Performance Task Using the Fablab ModelMaker Software

The Fablab ModelMaker software and Silhouette Cutter SD have been motivational tools for my 6th grade math students. I designed a lesson to provide my students with the opportunity to meaningfully apply measurement and geometry skills and concepts to a real-world task.

As an introduction lesson, the students replicated a small box such as playing cards, bandages, JELL-O, etc. For convenience, the size of the box was limited to one that could fit on an 8 ½” x 11” letter sized sheet of paper when its net was laid flat. I found an interesting array of boxes hunting around the house, especially in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, desk, etc. Once students selected a box they wanted to replicate, they carefully measured its sides and drew its net.

That task proved to be quite a challenge for many. It was a great experience to actually measure and draw an object in math class rather than just complete problems from a textbook. Students had to learn to properly place a ruler when measuring as well as apply spatial reasoning when drawing and labeling a net with precision. The difference between metric and standard units of measurement was also brought up prior to measuring.

The next task required them to determine the box’s surface area and volume. Having the physical box in hand was very helpful for students to make connections as they carried out their calculations. Finally, their incentive to accurately and precisely complete these tasks was to create a 3D model, print the net, cut the net, and assemble the 2D net into a 3D object using the laptops, software, printer and cutter technologies.

Given that today’s generation of students are very experienced with technology, I provided no instructions on how to use the software. Students naturally discovered how to maneuver through the tools and features of FabLab ModelMaker with very little assistance from me. To be honest, each year I assign this task, I re-learn the software through the students’ inquiry process. Students developed a sense of self-confidence and teamwork as they helped themselves and each other.

For an added challenge, in the spirit of problem-based learning, the next task was to design a box to hold specified contents. For example, when given one cylindrical glue stick, students had to design a rectangular box that would precisely hold three glue sticks with little wasted space.

With all the demands that we have now to prepare our students to be college and career ready and take the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this task is a refreshing yet meaningful way for our students to spend some quality time and effort to “put it all together” — and come out beaming with pride and accomplishment.

Each time I have carried out this performance task, I have made modifications to improve the experience. There are many challenges, such as overloaded curriculum time constraints and getting past the fear of not being able to conquer the unfamiliar “tech” on my own in a classroom full of well-meaning, high-needs, sometimes rambunctious 11- and 12-year olds. When my mindset was ready to tackle these challenges and attempt this feat, the results were well worth the sacrifice of time and the risk of not knowing what to expect.

STEM Pre-Academy

The University of Hawaii's STEM Pre-Academy is a state-funded program, focused on public middle school teachers in Hawaii. It fosters inspiration and relevance in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics primarily through initiatives, such as teacher workshops, technical focus sessions, and collaborative interaction between middle school teachers and subject matter experts. This teacher-driven multidisciplinary program helps middle school public educators develop and implement research and technology based student curriculum including lessons, activities and projects.

Contact Information

Minna Chanhboury



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