This paper folding activity has been a favourite of ours for many years, but we hadn't used it in the classroom for a while. It appears in Natural Maths Strategies: Book 1 (page 114) where the idea was used to create a jigsaw (fold - cut - reassemble). In its simplest form, the activity is as shown to the left. For a more detailed description, click the picture of the folded piece of paper to download a PDF file.
In the classroom
Recently, Ann used this activity in two year 5 classrooms and was surprised by the enthusiasm that developed but also by the lack of understanding about shapes. She let the students experiment for ten minutes during which time she visited some of them to see how they were going. Her first question was always:
"Tell me what you have found?"
And how revealing it was. Students named almost any quadrilateral as square and when asked "what makes it a square?" replied by saying that it has 4 sides. Probing and looking around the room helped students to identify that a square had 4 equal sides. One boy had labelled his some of his shapes as trapeziums and decided to test their sides by measuring them even though they were visibly different. He also said that he had never had a purpose for measuring before and was really enjoying it.