STEAM Workshop: Playful Polygons for Pre-primary kids

Learning about shapes through narrative and games to get little people moving, making and “coding”

Young kids (ages 3–6) have tons of energy, and as we are designing workshop for young humans we try harness and channel that energy and desire to move in the way we design workshops. So we move about lots! Instead of sitting for long periods of time asking kids to absorb information and recall facts, we ask them to explore spaces and literally move about to find answers. One such workshop is exploring polygons aka shapes!

STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.

We (Pukka Theatre) love stories and so do kids, so we got into character and asked the kids to join us in being Dassies on table mountain scurreling about. One kid asked “What’s that?” to which another kids responded “It’s like a fat mountain hamster.” And on that note we transformed in our hands into paws and started scampering about wriggling our sniffing noses ready to play our first game.

The first game we play is a variation of the popular warm-up game Ships Ahoy! instead of being pirates, we’re dassies atop Table Mountain moving and responding to “the tourist’s” (in otherwords the instructor) instructions “move left”, “move right”, “move forward”, “move back”, “dassie falling”, “dassie shake your body”. We’re trying to familiarise the kids with moving in different directions, relax and warm up their bodies and prepare them for listening, interpreting and responding to instructions.

We then huddle in a circle (sometimes its more like an oval, and when we really go awry we seem to stand in a jellybean), and Néna (my fellow teaching artist ) introduce the kids to our mission for the work shop: We’re exploring shapes. We then ask the kids about they shapes they know and if they could tell us anything about them, we also try constructing different shapes with our hands.

And then we’re back in dassie mode exploring the shapes around the room that are mapped out on the floor with masking tape. Here we’re asking young minds to recall what they know as well as identify and classify the shapes on the floor. We stop at each shape and discover how many points and lines/sides they are made up of.

We learn some things:

  • To make shapes we need to make points and lines.
  • Some shapes have more points and lines than other shapes. That’s what makes them special!
  • A point is an exact location, like a dot on a map. We use O or dots to mark points.
  • To make a line is to make a straight path and it can go on forever. You need to connect two points to make a line.
  • Triangles have 3 sides and 3 points, squares- 4 sides and 4 points, pentagons- 5 sides and 5 points and hexagons -6 sides and 6 points

We also think and associate the shapes with things we know or that we have seen in the world around us. Like identifying squares in the door or windows, and triangles in pizza slices or samosas and pentagons are similar to some houses and hexagons exist in buzzing bees’ honeycombs.

We then transformed back into our Dassies and played a game called Code Dassie. This is a game designed to progressively increase in complexity as learners master concepts, but is designed to get kids to make shapes and images while using a coders methodical approach to making.

This is how Dassie Code works:

Our mission is to code (make) shapes.

We need to use code to make our shapes. Codes are specific instructions that we use to give information.

One teammate is the coder and one teammate is the Dassie.

  • The coder must give the dassie simple instructions, which we call code.
  • The dassie must interpret the instructions and respond using their tool to create an output (in other words use your tool to make something).

The tool is simply a cardboard bone with wool and prestick/ tik-tak on it.

Let’s get started!

To make a point the coder will use the code word “stick”. The dassie responds by sticking the end of the wool to the floor.

To make Dassie move from the point the coder uses the code word “forward”.

But you have to help Dassie. Dassie doesn’t know how many steps to take. So tell Dassie how many steps to take. If you want Dassie to take two steps say “Dassie forward two” if you want Dassie to take four steps you say “Dassie forward four”.

If the coder needs Dassie to change direction use the code words “turn”.

Remember, Dassie doesn’t know what direction to go, so the coder has to tell Dassie which way to turn. For example coder says “Dassie turn left”.

Using these code phrases you can make Dassie draw all kinds of things.

Let’s make Dassie draw a square:

Coder says:

“Dassie stick.”

“Dassie forward 3.”

“Dassie stick.”

“Dassie turn right.”

“Dassie forward 3.”

“Dassie stick.”

“Dassie turn right.”

“Dassie forward 3.”

“Dassie stick.”

“Dassie turn right.”

“Dassie forward 3.”

“Dassie stick.”

If the shape is what the coder intended to be dassie then says “mission complete” if the shape is incomplete or incorrect, the coder can try correct it or the team can start over.

When playing with young learners we only use one instruction at a time as young minds are still developing spacial awareness and problem solving and we’re also discovering mathematical and programming principals. Learning through body-syntonic (a term coined by Seymour Papert) experiences enables kids to embody and build knowledge relating to their own context and in relation to their own bodies which.

We use an arts integration approach to facilitating workshops to create a richer context for learning and to deepen kids’ engagement, this is can also be recognized as a STEAM approach. Sometimes it takes a little practice to get the hang of things but it is sure a fun way to get kids to engage with information and then try and practically apply it. Plus, you can make a giant square “Dassie forward 10” that is if your room allows it!

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