Fort-ified Mathematics

Fort-ified Mathematics

October 29, 2013

My kids love to make forts out of anything they can find around the house–pillows, boxes, chairs, tables, and bed sheets. It causes a bit of mess as they grab materials and move around the furniture but I don’t mind! They’re having a great time and even learning about math as they play.

Part of the fun is seeing how many kids can fit into the tent they’ve made before the whole thing tumbles down. I ask the kids if they think they can all fit in. One kid goes in and then another. Still more kids to go–can they find a way to do it? Some of the kids stand and others sit as they crowd in. How many can they fit in if they distribute themselves throughout the entire tent?

If the tent falls down, just rebuild! Can you make a tent so everyone can fit inside sitting down? Estimate how much space you’ll need. Can you make your tent even stronger? Is it easier to build a sturdy tall tent or a wide tent?

Try to increase the area inside the tent by spreading the supports further out. If the ceiling caves in, you may need some support. Try putting another chair in the center to prop up the bed sheet ceiling. Your ceiling is stronger but how does that affect the available floor space in your tent? Is there another way to support the ceiling without interrupting your floor space?

Build different shaped forts. Is a pyramid fort stronger than a fort with four square walls? Could you arrange the supports in a circular shape? Now, how far out can you stretch the walls before your bed sheet ceiling caves in?

As the kids experiment and have fun, they’re actually reconstructing the mathematical history of architecture, which moved from simple post and lintel designs to arches and vaults and eventually Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes (just like at Disney’s Epcot) in the quest for uninterrupted interior space.

With just the furniture, blankets, and pillows available in your house, you can transform your living room in to a math fantasy fort!

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