Tag zometool

Revisiting the volume of a sphere with 3d printing

[Note: 10:30 am on Oct 7th, 2017 – had a hard stop time to get this out the door, so it is published without editing. Will (or might!) edit a bit later]

About two years I found an amazing design by Steve Portz on Thingiverse:

“Archimedes Proof” by Steve Portz on Thingiverse

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 9.21.36 AM

We did a really fun project using the print back then:

The volume of a sphere via Archimedes

Today we revisited the idea. We began by talking generally about the volume of a cylinder:

The next part of the project was heading down the path to finding the volume of a cone. I thought the right idea would be to talk first about the volume of a pyramid, so I introduced pyramid volume idea through snap cubes.

Also, I knew something was going a little sideways with this one when we were talking this morning, but seeing the video now I see where it was off. The main idea here is the factor of 3 in the division. Ignore the height h that I’m talking about.

Next we looked at some pyramid shapes that we’ve played with in the past. The idea here was to show how three (or 6) pyramids can make a cube. This part was went much better than the prior one 🙂

The ideas here led us to guess at the volume formula for a cone.

Now that we’d talked about the volume formulas for a cone and a cylinder, we could use the 3d print to guess at the volume formala for the sphere.

With all of that prep work behind us, we took a shot at pouring water through the print. It worked nearly perfectly 🙂

I am really happy that Steve Portz designed this amazing 3d print. It makes exploring some elementary ideas in 3d geometry really fun!


Calculating the volume of our rhombic dodecahedron

Yesterday we did a fun project involving a rhombic dodecahedron:

A project for kids inspired by Nassim Taleb and Alexander Bogomolny

At the end of that project we were looking carefully at how you would find the volume of a rhombic dodecahedron in general. Today I wanted to move from the general case to the specific and see if we could calculate the volume of our shapes. This tasked proved to be much more difficult for the boys than I imagined it would be. Definitely a learning experience for me.

Here’s how we got going. Even at the end of the 5 min here the boys are struggling to see how to get started.

So, after the struggle in the first video, we tried to back up and ask a more general question -> how do we find the volume of a cube?

Now we grabbed a ruler and measured the side length of the cube. This task also had a few tricky parts -> do we include the zome balls, for example. But now we were making progress!

Finally we turned to finding the volume of one our our 3d printed rhombic dodecahedrons. We did some measuring and found how many of these shapes it would take to fill our zome shape and how many it would take to fill a 1 meter cube.

So, a harder project than I expected, but still fun. We’ve done so much abstract work over the years and that makes the concrete work a little more difficult (or unusual), I suppose. I’m happy for this struggle, though, since it showed me that we need to do a few more projects like this one.

A project for kids inspired by Nassim Taleb and Alexander Bogomolny

I woke up yesterday morning to see this problem posted on twitter by Alexander Bogomolny:

About a two months ago we did a fun project inspired by a different problem Bogomolny posted:

Working through an Alexander Bogomolny probability problem with kids

It seemed as though this one could be just as fun. I started by introducing the problem and then proposing that we explore a simplified (2d) version. I was excited to hear that the boys had some interesting ideas about the complicated problem:

Next we went down to the living room to explore the easier problem. The 2d version, |x| + |y| \leq 1, is an interesting way to talk about both absolute value and lines with kids:

Next we returned to the computer to view two of Nassim Taleb’s ideas about the problem. I don’t know why the tweets aren’t embedding properly, so here are the screen shots of the two tweets we looked at in this video. They can be accessed via Alexander Bogomolny’s tweet above (which is embedding just fine . . . .)



The first tweet reminded the boys of a different (and super fun) project about hypercubes inspired by a Kelsey Houston-Edwards video that we did over the summer:

One more look at the Hypercube

The connection between these two projects is actually pretty interesting and maybe worth an entire project all by itself.

Next we returned to the living room and made a rhombic dodecahedron out of our zometool set. Having the zometool version helped the boys see the square in the middle of the shape that they were having trouble seeing on the screen. Seeing that square still proved to be tough for my younger son, but he did eventually see it.

After we identified the middle square I had to boys show that there is also a cube hiding inside of the shape and that this cube allows you to see surprisingly easily how to calculate the volume of a rhombic dodecahedron:

Finally, we wrapped up by using some 3d printed rhombic dodecahedrons to show that they tile 3d Euclidean space (sorry that this video is out of focus):

Definitely a fun project. I love showing the boys fun connections between algebra and geometry. It is also always tremendously satisfying to find really difficult problems that can be made accessible to kids. Thanks to Alexander Bogomolny and Nassim Taleb for the inspiration for this project.

Exploring induction and the pentagonal numbers

Yesterday we did a fun project based on this tweet by James Tanton:

That project is here:

Exploring a neat problem from James Tanton

During the project yesterday we touched on mathematical induction and also on the pengatonal numbers. Today I wanted to revisit those ideas with slightly more depth.

We started with a quick review of yesterday’s project:

Now we looked at a mathematical induction proof. The example here is:

1 + 3 + 5 + \ldots + (2n - 1) = n^2

(the nearly camera ran out of batteries, that’s why this part is split into two videos)

Here’s the 2nd part of the induction proof after solving the battery problem:

To wrap up the project we went to the living room to build some shapes with our Zometool set. The Zome shapes really helped the boys make the connection between the numbers and geometry.

The boys really liked this project. In fact, my younger son spent the 30 min after we finished making the decagonal numbers 🙂

Looking at Dave Richeson’s “Euler’s Gem” book with kids

I stumbled on this book at Barnes & Noble last week:

It is such a delightful read that I thought the kids might enjoy it, too, so I had them read the introduction (~10 pages).

Here’s what they learned:

Next we tried to calculate Euler’s formula for two simple shapes – a tetrahedron and a cube:

After that introduction we moved on to some slightly more complicated shapes – an icosahedron and a rhombic dodecahedron. The rhombic dodecahedron gave the kids a tiny bit of trouble since it doesn’t have quite the same set of symmetries as any of the Platonic solids:

Now we tried two very difficult shapes:


We studied these shapes last week in a couple of projects inspired by an Alexander Bogomolny tweet:

Working through an Alexander Bogomolny probability problem with kids

Connecting yesterday’s probability project with a few old 3d geometry projects

I suspected that this part would be difficult, so I had them count the faces, edges, and verticies of the two shapes off camera. Here’s what they found:

So, since the boys couldn’t agree on the number of verticies, edges, and faces of one of the shapes, I had them build it using our Zometool set to see what was going on. The Zometool set helped, thankfully. Here’s what they found after building the shape (and we got a little help from one of our cats):

Definitely a fun project. It was especially cool to hear the kids realize that the shape they were having difficulty with was (somehow) a torus. Or, as my older son said: “In the torus class of shapes.” I’m excited to try to turn a few other ideas from Richeson’s book into projects for kids.

Working through an Alexander Bogomolny probability problem with kids

Earlier in the week I saw Alexander Bogomolny post a neat probability problem:

There are many ways to solve this problem, but when I saw the 3d shapes associated with it I thought it would make for a fun geometry problem with the boys. So, I printed the shapes overnight and we used them to work through the problem this morning.

Here’s the introduction to the problem. This step was important to make sure that the kids understood what the problem was asking. Although the problem is accessible to kids (I think) once they see the shapes, the language of the problem is harder for them to understand. But, with a bit of guidance that difficulty can be overcome:

With the introduction out of the way we dove into thinking about the shape. Before showing the two 3d prints, I asked them what they thought the shape would look like. It was challenging for them to describe (not surprisingly).

They had some interesting comments when they saw the shape, including that the shape reminded them of a version of a 4d cube!

Next we took a little time off camera to build the two shapes out of our Zometool set. Building the shapes was an interesting challenge for the kids since it wasn’t obvious to them what the diagonal line segments should be. With a little trial and error they found that the diagonal line segments were yellow struts.

Here’s their description of the build and what they learned. After building the shapes they decided that calculating the volume of the compliment would likely be easier.

Sorry that this video is a little fuzzy.

Having decided to look at the compliment to find the volume, we took a look at one of the pieces of the compliment on Mathematica to be sure that we understood the shape. They were able to see pretty quickly that the shape had some interesting structure. We used that structure in the next video to finish off the problem:

Finally, we worked through the calculation to find that the volume of the compliment was 7/27 units. Thus, the volume of the original shape is 20 / 27.

As I watched the videos again this morning I realized that my older son mentioned a second way to find the volume of the compliment and I misunderstood what he was saying. We’ll revisit this project tomorrow to find the volume the way he suggested.

I really enjoyed this project. It is fun to take challenging problems and find ways to make them accessible to kids. Also, geometric probability is an incredibly fun topic all by itself!

A project inspired by Steve Phelps’s Dissection tweet

I saw a neat tweet from Steve Phelps today:

We’ve done a couple of projects on the Rhoombic Dodecahedron before – here are three of them:

Using Matt Parker’s Platonic Solid video with kids

A 3D Geometry proof with few words courtesy of Fawn Nguyen

Penrose Tiles and some simple 3D Variations

After seeing Phelps’s tweet I thought it would be fun to see if the boys remembered how to find the volume of the shape. So, I built one out of our Zometool set and asked them what they knew about the shape.

Here’s what my older son had to say:

Here’s what my younger son had to say:

I’m glad I saw Phelps’s tweet – it was fun to revisit some of these old projects occasionally. Also, it was a nice reminder of how easy it is to share 3d shapes with kids using a Zometool set.

A surprise 30-60-90 triangle

Over the last couple of days we’ve done two projects that started from a couple of easy to state questions:

(i) Given some squares with area 1, how do you make a square with area 2?

(ii) Given some squares with area 1, how do you make a square with are 3?

Those project are here:

A neat and easy to state geometry problem

Some simple proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem

Tonight my older son is at a school event. That gave me time to do a fun little extension of these two projects with my younger son.

First I reviewed the original problems:

My son solved the 2nd problem above by making triangles with sides 1, \sqrt{2}, and \sqrt{3}. For this part of the project I wanted to show him a different triangle that has a side length of \sqrt{3} – a 30-60-90 triangle:

Now – for a little extra fun – we made a Zometool cube. That cube shows that the face diagonal (of a 1x1x1) cube has length \sqrt{2}. It also shows that the internal diagonal has length \sqrt{3}.

Here’s the surprise – if we extend basically the same geometry to 4 dimensions, we find that the “long” internal diagonal of a 1x1x1x1 cube has length 2, and that there’s a secret little 30-60-90 triangle hiding in the cube!

We did a similar project a few years ago:

Did you know that there is a 30-60-90 triangle in a Hypercube

It was nice to revisit this idea today 🙂

Extending Vsauce’s 4 dimensional shadow tweet a bit

Saw a fun tweet from Vsauce before we left for vacation:

He later shared the shape, too:

Using shadows is a an incredibly fun way to explore complex shapes. Henry Segerman gave an amazing talk about the idea last fall at MIT:


I think playing with these sorts of shadows is a great way to share complex shapes with kids, too (we also used a Zometool set!):

Playing with shadows inspired by Henry Segerman

4-dimensional Shadows

Playing with our Zometool model of Bathsheba Grossman’s “Hypercube B” was especially cool – you can see some of the same effects as in the Vsauce video, though I think the two shapes are a little different.

Though this project shows that there are a few different Zome versions of the shape, so maybe my blue-strut version isn’t all that different from Vsauce’s 4-d cube after all:

Bathsheba Grossman’s “Hypercube-B” part 2

Anyway, as Vsauce’s tweet shows, exploring shapes via shadows is fascinating. It is also a really fun way to introduce kids to shapes that they’ve probably never seen before!

A Zometool follow up to our cuboctohedron project

Earlier in the week we studied the cuboctahedron:


That project is here:

Playing wiht the Cuboctahedron

Also earlier in the week I saw these shapes displayed in the MIT math department:

The chance encounters with these shapes this week gave me the idea to revisit them today and see if we could build them with our zometool set. The second shape, I think, is mislabled in the MIT display case – or maybe they are just using a less common name. The usual name is the icosidodecahedron, and it is also a shape we’ve seen before:


I started the project today by showing the shapes to the boys and asking what they knew about them:

Then we went to the living room to build the shapes. The only tricky part is that the cuboctahedron needs green struts. As always, the wonderful thing about the Zometool set is that you can go from seeing these shapes on a page to holding them in your hand almost immediately!

The last part of the project was building the dual shape of the cuboctahedron. I wasn’t sure if the zome set would let us do this since you can’t exactly find the center of the triangles with zome – but we did catch a lucky break! The dual is also a shape we’ve seen before 🙂

This project was really fun – exploring geometry with our Zometool set is one of my favorite activities!