Saturday, November 21, 2015

Beaded Cube Math Lesson for Kids

Several people have asked me to write a math lesson for kids using beading. The challenge is to make something mathematically interesting with bead weaving that can be completed within a single lesson, under an hour, preferably less.

So I wrote this lesson on beaded cubes (PDF). The lesson begins with some background on what a beaded cube is with lots of drawings and a photo. It uses terms like edge, face, vertex, and graph of a cube. The second section gives step-by-step instructions for how to bead weave a cube with a needle, string, and pony beads. After finishing this lesson, students will have practiced basic sewing skills like measuring thread, threading a needle, and tying square knots. The final section provides several math and spatial reasoning "challenges" to extend learners' thinking about beaded cubes.

This lesson teaches several things, especially spatial reasoning, where the learner has to move back and forth between a 2D representation on paper to the 3D model in their hands. It also teaches the importance of carefully following instructions because every step is laid out, and if you skip one of them, your work won't look like what is on the paper. The challenges encourage students to build different symmetric coloring of a cube, extend the construction to a row of cubes, and think about a minimal thread path.

I taught this lesson at the Julia Robinson Math Festival and another version at MoMath. With just 12 beads, this task is not easy, but it is enticing, approachable, and engaging for children, especially girls, and boys like it too, as do their moms and dads. It seems appropriate for children as young as fourth grade, and most of them generally need a good amount of help, but they can do it with coaching. Fifth and six graders have a bit easier time with it.  Interestingly enough, my experience in teaching this lesson to adults and children is that it is not any easier for a typical adult than it is for a typical fifth or sixth grader. In fact, I watched one man get completely lapped by his fifth grade daughter today. GO GIRL MATH POWER!

Here are the materials you need to teach a group of kids:
Pony beads
Size 18 tapestry needles, one per student
String: Cotton is good.  Something thin enough to fit through the eye of the needle, but thick enough to provide some friction.
Magnetic pin cushion: an easy way to collect the needles
Snips or scissors: I tied them to the end of some crazy yarn so they wouldn't disappear.
Beaded samples
Cups or bowls to hold beads
Hand outs: I designed the PDF file to be printed once, and then photocopied onto two sides of a sheet of paper, with one sheet per student.  Print the PDF file for best quality, not the jpgs.

I encourage you to try this lesson with your own students or children. If you have anything meaningful to contribute to making it better, please do not hesitate to send me an email or leave a comment below. If you want to see what else you can do with beaded cubes, you should search for my blog for CRAW or "cubic right angle weave" because a beaded cube forms the basic unit of one of my favorite bead weaving stitches.  Also search Planet Bead to see the many beautiful things that have been beaded with cubes.

If you think this lesson is useful, consider showing your support by perusing my Etsy shop, gwenbeads and buying yourself a little something special. You deserve it.

Thanks for looking. You're awesome. Yes, you!

Edited to add: Emilie Pritchard suggests using long plastic beads, called "spaghetti" beads, to help visualize the edges of the cube. Search the internet to find them for sale.


  1. Thank you very much for this lesson :-) but I can't download the PDF files

    1. I don't know why. I just tested the links and they work for me. Send me an email, and I'll email you the file.

    2. Now, it works !!! Thank you again to you for sharing !


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