Teaching Geometry Using Magnetic Tiles

Math - including geometry - tends to be highly visual and spatial in nature and creating unique challenges for students who are visually impaired. Manipulatives are regularly used as teaching tools to engage students in hands-on learning of math concepts. Manipulatives can be used to introduce, practice or remediate a concept.

Geometry Resources for Younger Students

Familiar objects are incorporated into math lessons in preschool and kindergarten classrooms as students learn about 2D shapes (circle, square, triangle, etc.) and about 3D shapes (sphere, cube, pyramid, cone, cylinder). As the student progresses through school, these basic shapes and math concepts are expanded. Geometry is defined as the area of mathematics that deals with points, lines, shapes and space. Plane Geometry is about flat shapes like lines, circles and triangles. Solid Geometry is about solid - 3 dimensional - shapes like spheres and cubes. Relating familiar 3D objects with the correct geometry term is one of the first geometry activities for young students. These popular hands-on activities rarely need modifications to make them accessible for a student with a visual impairment.

The video below is a fun song to reinforce basic geometry terms and concepts.

Young students benefit from exploring and creating geometric shapes. For students with visual impairments, drawing these shapes is often not an option. There are hands-on options such as using wooden or plastic geometric shapes - these kits are found in most elementary classrooms. Magnetic tiles are an innovative way to create geometric shapes. Depending on the kit, these tiles come with standard shapes of brightly colored squares and triangles. Some kits have hexagons, octagons, circles and other shapes. All the tiles are magnetic so they can quickly be attached to create interesting geometric shapes as well as creating creatures, objects and whatever the student can imagine. Some brands of magnetic tiles are solid while other tiles are not.

The image below was created with Magna-Tiles, colorful opaque solid tiles. The 3D object is a rocket, comprised of four upright square tiles for the base, four elongated triangles attached to the base that come to a point at the top, and four triangles attached to the edges of the base to form the rocket's fins.

The video below demonstrates a student using magnetic tiles to quickly create various cubes, 3D towers, spheres, etc. Using a variety of squares and triangles, the student lays the tiles on the desk top attaching them with the magnetic connection. Once the design layout is complete, the student grasps the center pieces of the design and pulls them up. The magnetic tiles pull together to create the desired 3D image.

Unfortunately, this video is only visual.

Magnetic Tiles for older students

Your older student is learning new geometry concepts that include unique 3D shapes. His/her peers are given a geometry problem with a corresponding image of a unique 3D object. How can you provide quick physical 3D representations of the same image? Have you tried using magnetic tiles? Magnetic tiles are able to create a variety of unique shapes making them more flexible than the traditional wooden cubes, cones and spheres. Magnetic tiles will also stay attached as the student explores the shape with his/her hands. The student can feel the shape, the base, the number of squares/triangles used to create the perimeter of the shape, etc. Students will learn how to layout the tiles on a flat surface in order to create a 3D object. (Example: 3 squares and two triangles laid flat in a specific sequence can create a 3D pyramid.) Mainstream educators, tutors, peers and family members can use magnetic tiles to create 3D images. With a basic description of the print image, your student can also learn to quickly create his own 3D model!

The following math worksheet images can be recreated with magnetic tiles to help a student with visual impairments understand 3D diagrams.

The worksheet below shows a pyramid and 8 potential combinations of 2D pictures of 3 squares and two triangles in different formats, such as three squares attached in a row with a triangle off to the left of the top square and the second triangle off to the right of the second square. The worksheet asks which of these 8 options when folded will create a pyramid.

Lay the magnetic tiles on the desk in the shape of each of the 8 2D options.  When learning, the student can physically 'fold' each shape and see if it becomes a pyramid. ("Fold" means without detaching the squares and triangles, leave one square as the base and "fold" or manipulate the touching square so that the edges still touch but one square is flat on the desk and the second square is upright.  Continue to fold or manipulate all the squares and triangles to form a 3D shape. If the shape turns out to be a pyramid, then that design layout is the answer.)

Teacher Hint:  If the student has explored and created 3D shapes using magnetic tiles, completing a worksheet like the one above will be a familiar task!

The next 3D image is an irregular cuboid (6 sided with the base bigger than the top). The length is 6m, the width is 3m and the height is 7m.

The next worksheet has 24 different prisms.The first question asks the student to find the volume of the prisms. A quick hands-on way to teach these concepts is to create the prisms using magnetic tiles.

Note: Using manipulatives is a great teaching tool to help a student with visual impairments to transition for concrete 3D objects to 2D tactile and/or described images. The goal is to understand the math concepts; realistically students will need to understand a 2D tactile rendering of 3D objects. When taking online assessments, most college classes and in professional settings, these diagrams may only be verbally described.

Resources

There are numerous magnetic tiles (also called magnetic blocks or magnetic bricks) to choose from. Some sets have solid shapes while others are open shapes (meaning the plastic is only the outline of the shape with the center of the shape open.) Most brands have several sets to choose from (different number of tiles with additional shapes available). For more complex 3D objects, look for sets that have a variety of shapes. Here are a few examples: