ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — St. Bonaventure University mathematics professor Dr. Christopher Hill called it a “geometric barn-raising,” which is a good thing because few would have known it by its formal name, a “mega-icosahedron-raising.”
Picture containers full of little, plastic, color-coded construction rods and round connector pieces, and eight bright high school mathematics students working individually and collaboratively for two hours to build a dozen beach ball-sized geometric shapes known as extended rhombicosidodecahedra or “mega-connectors.”
The wow! moment – the “barn-raising” – came when the individual mega-connectors were connected with additional plastic struts to form a mega-icosahedron standing some six feet tall.
It was Hill’s idea to build the super-sized structure using Zometool construction pieces. Zometool is an easy-to-use yet mathematically precise educational construction “toy” that is as likely to be found in an elementary school classroom as it is in a research scientist’s lab or engineer’s office. The unique design of its round connector pieces allows for construction in 62 different directions, enabling users to build millions of geometric structures, from basic shapes such as triangles and rectangles to models of DNA molecules to “shadows” of complex four-dimensional figures.
Hill had the plan, but he needed builders and a place to work. Evelyn Sabina, curator of education at The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure, found both. Sabina offered space in The Quick Center, then recruited students through math teachers Todd Christopher at Allegany-Limestone High School and Kris Ring at Olean High.
The student participants were Colleen Bailey, Brandon Kohn, Chris Spears and Pete Marciano II from Allegany-Limestone and Andy Lu, Matt Witte, Becca Lasky and Nicole Sova from Olean High. The students were joined by teachers Christopher and Ring, as well as Allegany-Limestone teacher Linda Dodd-Nagel and St. Bonaventure education student Jackie Donovan.
As a warm-up to the barn-raising, the students built models with such esoteric names as the cube-in-the-dodecahedron and the rhombic triacontahedron, as well as elaborate structures of their own design. Then the students got to work building the mega-connectors. Two hours later, they were linking the spheroids with “mega-struts” to form the towering stand-alone model. The structure, with more than 2,500 parts, was large enough that Becca Lasky was able to gingerly enter and stand up inside of it.
Besides being challenging and fun, such model-building projects help students visualize abstract concepts, understand spatial relationships, perform mathematical investigations, and unleash their creativity, said Hill, noting they are as meaningful to math students as they are to students of engineering, architecture and art.
For more information about educational outreach programs coordinated by The Quick Center at St. Bonaventure, go to www.sbu.edu/quickcenter or contact Sabina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Catholic Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them.