As a child, I loved shapes, and as a child who couldn’t draw particularly well, I spent a lot of time using shapes, both wooden blocks and traced on paper, to make structures and new images.
One of my favourite activities was a tangram, a puzzle made of seven shapes that could be rearranged to create a seemingly endless variety of new images, which included everything from a large trapezoid to a house, or – my personal favourite – a rabbit.
This same love of shapes re-emerged when I first tuned in to TVO Kids to watch the Apartment 11-produced Look Kool, a fun show that, in a single 22-minute episode, teaches kids everything they could want to know about a single aspect of geometry, whether it’s cones, domes, symmetry, sports projectiles…you name it. Look Kool makes geometry easy to understand by finding it in everyday objects and deconstructing shapes and figures to find others within.
Every moment in the show can teach viewers something about geometry. Even the words “Look” and “Kool” in the title sequence itself appear on screen as reflections of each other (symmetry!). Look Kool has the added bonus of a delightfully wacky host, Hamza, who uses songs, challenges and investigations to teach viewers new and exciting things about geometry. There’s definitely a lot to learn here, but are the educational components of Look Kool relevant to the Ontario curriculum? I took a closer look at both to find out. Since Look Kool’s target audience is children between the ages of six and nine, I compared the lessons it teaches to the Geometry and Spatial Sense sections for Grades 1-4 in the Ontario Math Curriculum.
In each episode of Look Kool, there are several components, all of which serve different functions in helping kids learn about geometry. As I mentioned above, Look Kool finds geometry in objects all around us. This is done in the “Investigation” segment, which is carried out by real kid investigators, Han Ru and Stefano. Hamza presents them with the geometric shape or figure and sends them off to find more real-world examples of it. The kids send in a picture and Hamza, with the help of his trusty Mind’s Eye Computer, teaches us about the reason certain objects are built in certain geometric shapes. This segment is especially relevant to the expectation for Grade 1 students to “describe similarities and differences between an everyday object and a three-dimensional figure,” as well as Grade 4 expectations to “identify and describe prisms and pyramids, and classify them by their geometric properties (i.e., shape of faces, number of edges, number of vertices), using concrete materials.”
The investigators do exactly that by examining objects around them and using their knowledge of a 3D figure to determine if the object possesses those properties. For example, in the Cones episode, Han Ru and Stefano see pylons, pinecones and roofs and determine they are cones by discussing whether they have circular bases leading up to a point. When they are wrong about a roof, Hamza explains why: its base is not a circle, but rather an octagon, making it an octagonal pyramid. This clarification, in turn, demonstrates the specific Grade 3 expectation to “describe and name prisms and pyramids by the shape of their base.” Small details like this are proof that Look Kool doesn’t waste a single learning opportunity.
Another important part of each episode is the “Deconstruct,” in which Hamza takes a closer look at the geometric figure of the day and identifies its components. For instance, in the Cubes episode, Hamza takes apart a 3D graphic of a Rubik’s cube to reveal that it’s actually composed of six squares. This kind of deconstruction is a perfect example of a recurring curriculum expectation for Grades 1-4: “classifying three-dimensional figures by geometric properties (number and shape of faces).”
This is later combined with Grade 4 student expectations of learning to “construct skeletons of three-dimensional figures, using a variety of tools (e.g., straws and modelling clay, toothpicks and marshmallows, Polydrons),” and to “construct three-dimensional figures using two-dimensional shapes,” when the investigators tape together cubes using multiple patterns of cardboard squares. In the Domes episode they also advance to connecting sticks to make 2D triangles, pentagons and hexagons, which in turn connect to make a dome. These are both part of the “Hands-On” segment.
There’s also my personal favourite: the “Brain Bender” segment, which empowers kids to solve math problems using everyday items. This segment, above all, fits the overall Mathematical Process Expectations for Grades 1-3 students to “create basic representations of simple mathematical ideas (e.g., using concrete materials; physical actions, such as hopping or clapping; pictures; numbers; diagrams; invented symbols), make connections among them, and apply them to solve problems.” In the episode on cones, the kids are given double-scoop ice cream cones and have to figure out how many combinations of two scoops they can make with five different flavours (I learned through the show that the answer is 15). Once the kids work out a method, Hamza explains in more detail how to solve the problems. These situations are used to show how math can be used in real-world situations. Of course, in the real world it would be unwise to try to eat 15 two-scoop ice cream cones!
Specific episodes also adhere to specific aspects of the curriculum. For instance, the Symmetry episode covers most of the Grade 1-4 expectations relating to symmetry. They include creating and describing symmetrical designs, and locating and drawing lines of symmetry in 2D shapes. In the episode, kids not only work in teams to draw the two halves of a symmetrical image in the “Challenge” segment, but the investigators also find symmetry or a lack thereof in the real world, and Hamza shows us different lines of symmetry (e.g., vertical, horizontal, diagonal on a checkerboard, and multiple lines on a flower).
By now it’s clear that Look Kool is a prime example of an Ontario curriculum-friendly show. But there’s more. It not only puts geometry into perspective by getting real kids to investigate the world around them, but also goes beyond expectations to explain other unique properties of figures and their uses throughout history.
Look Kool will teach children about 2D and 3D shapes, but along the way, they might also learn about Archimedes’ method for finding the volume of a cylinder and a cone, and a thing or two about Pablo Picasso’s Cubism period. There’s something “kool” to discover and learn around every edge of this three-dimensional show.