Edges vs. Corners
Date: 04/18/2002 at 20:16:31 From: Laura Grapski Subject: Geometry Vocabulary Dear Dr. Math, I am currently teaching my 3rd graders about geometric figures. Every time we begin using the words edges, corners, and surfaces to describe geometric figures, my students get confused on how to determine an edge versus a corner. They also have difficulty counting the number of edges on a geometric figure, say a cube. Is there some good "not too over the head" vocabulary to help my students determine an edge versus a corner? Can you explain how to calculate the correct number of edges on a cube? Thanks for your help. Appreciatively, Laura
Date: 04/19/2002 at 09:04:29 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Geometry Vocabulary Hi, Laura. Part of the problem is that the word "corner" is ambiguous; we don't use it in math, and kids use it in too many ways to get a clear picture. The proper terms are vertex, edge, and face, where a vertex is a POINT where different faces come together, and an edge is a LINE (segment) where different faces come together. I can easily picture calling an edge a corner in everyday language, so I'm not surprised they get it wrong. Probably you have been given the terms you are using because "vertex" (with its plural "vertices") seems too hard for young children to learn, but sometimes there's a reason for introducing new words. ("Side" is even more ambiguous, so I'm glad you're using "surface" or "face.") Now, how can we count the edges of a cube? It's just a matter of finding an orderly way to keep track of them. You could make a cube out of paper, and mark each edge as you count it; or use erasable markers on a plastic one. Or you can set the cube on a table and count one group of edges at a time: there are four edges on the table, four on the top, and four standing vertically, making 12 in all. The fun way is to use the kind of tricks mathematicians like, which save work for large problems, while making use of the orderliness of a problem. You can look at each corner (excuse me, vertex) and count the number of edges there: 3 come together at each vertex. There are 8 vertices in all, and 3 times 8 gives 24. But that didn't count the number of edges, because we counted each edge twice - we really counted the ENDS of edges, and each edge has two ends. So we divide 24 by 2, and get the right answer. You can instead count the number of edges on each face; again, each edge will be counted twice, since it belongs to two faces. This kind of thinking is extremely useful, and seeing that all the different methods come out the same can be exciting, maybe even suspenseful! - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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