Another year, another activity to tweak. This time I fiddle with the 3D coordinate system models I had students build. There was a simple goal: improve the ability to orient objects in 3D space. Students were to build a 3D coordinate system and hang a series of vectors inside.

I hacked together a prototype and some instructions and watched to see what would happen.

Photo Feb 06, 10 19 37 AM.jpg

Some problems cropped up almost immediately:

  • constructing the box was super time consuming
  • it wasn't enough work for six people
  • the final products didn't last long
  • instructions were ignored
  • most were clueless when it came to inserting a series of vectors into the cube

While a cool visual, overall the project did not accomplish the goal. Students could easily reproduce a cube made out of straws but had little idea what to DO with it.

When I notice problems with an activity I let them play out and wait for next year.


  • produce a smaller cube
  • maximum 3 people per cube
  • scrap the written instructions
  • scrap the vectors, focus on the octants and their sign conventions
  • have students generate example points that would belong in the octant

To improve the impact of the construction, I had to step back and improve the introduction. Last year I built a giant 3D coordinate system in the room and talked about it in vague motions. This year, I had them walk around in it for a few minutes. All the information about the octants would be in their hands before they touched a straw.

Reducing the number of people per cube forced everyone to discuss the project. Whether it was debating the proper method for taping joints or orienting the octants properly, no one twiddled their thumbs this time.


I used a 90 minute period for this. It took 10 minutes to give instructions and most were strung up on the ceiling about an hour later. The longevity of the cubes remains to be seen, but the smaller size offered room for more robust construction tactics.

I liked this version better. I'll probably like the next iteration more.

AuthorJonathan Claydon