Explicitly teaching 2D & 3D

Last year during a Duct Tape challenge, I discovered that some of my young learners did not understand how to create three-dimensional creations. This year as I began the year I intentionally designed some tasks that involved making two and three-dimensional creations out of art materials, found materials and classroom building blocks. My observations indicated that while some of my students could build 3D things using wooden blocks they struggled with transferring this knowledge over to creating 3D objects with art materials and recycled items. This year I conducted my own personal inquiry about how I could explicitly teach 2D and 3D building skills throughout the year.

I consulted with Aviva, @Avivaloca and others in my PLN on Twitter. I explained my observations and I sought out suggestions. What I discovered is I needed to shift my mindset and make thinking in 2D and 3D a habit of mind for my students. I looked for natural opportunities to demonstrated the differences between 2D and 3D throughout the entire year. I made it an underlying inquiry theme that I wove into the students’ and classes inquiries. As inquiries emerged throughout the year I found ways to suggest or provide materials for students to explore in both 2D and 3D. For example, in the Fall, two students brought in birds’ nests that they found on the way to school. We also saw birds’ nests in trees in our pond. One of the inquiries was how do birds build their nests. We read books, watched short clips and designed our own bird nests. I was fascinated to watch how students used materials and I also encouraged them to draw bird nests. I made sure I took time to show students the 3D and 2D nests and I taught them the vocabulary.


As the year progressed I kept the same teaching lens and provided art activities that compared and contrasted 2D and 3D items. In February after we had a Skype call with Ann-Marie Hulse’s class and learned about Chinese New Year, ¬†our class made Chinese Lanterns. We discussed the stages of the lantern making and the students saw how a 2D shape can be folded to make a 3D shape.

Photo 2014-06-22, 7 09 49 AM

We revisited our bird inquiry in the spring and we built a nesting box and placed it in the front of our school. In class, students created bird houses out of 2D shapes. They decorated them and created lovely pictures. In the following days, I provided boxes, cardboard and other materials and asked them to create another bird house. We compared the 2D and 3D houses and discussed the merits of when it is best to use each type of design.

Photo 2014-06-22, 6 54 16 AM

I also looked for other building materials for students to explore throughout the year. I borrowed a set of Magformers magnets. These sets could connect in both 2D and 3D ways. I bought a set of Connecting straws and students build both 2D and 3D things from the straws. As always, each week the students make a fresh set of playdough. We ensured they had a variety of objects to use with the playdough. This year, I saw students making more 3D things from the playdough. Last year, it was standard for students to roll and make flat items. I now saw the children doing both of these things at the playdough area.

Photo 2014-06-22, 7 00 54 AM

My overall learning, is I need to be explicit in my instruction and I need to help students draw conclusions about the differences between 2D and 3D designs. I had to be intentional about weaving 2D and 3D into the children’s natural inquiries. I also had to carefully select a variety of materials for both the art and the building centers in our class. By doing so, I feel and have observed students who have a deeper understanding of what 2D and 3D designing and building. I loved hearing, “Mrs. Harrison, look I just made a 3D… at the art center.” Students took their new learning and incorporated it in their own play. ¬†Thank you to everyone who offered suggestions or prompts to move my thinking forward.

How do you shift the thinking of young learners in this area?


2 thoughts on “Explicitly teaching 2D & 3D

  1. Great post. I will sometimes invite the kids to respond to a story we’re reading: a choice of a picture or a model. I never thought of drawing their attention to the fact that they were representing their thinking in one way or the other. I will definitely be more conscious of this next year…what a great way to bring mathematical thinking into all areas of learning!

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