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Geodesic Domes and a Little Geometry

Do you know what a geodesic dome is? Is this a word your students know? I will admit I didn’t know what the word geodesic meant when I first decided to try this challenge!

As I was first contemplating this challenge I happened to be driving into Dallas on a little vacation and right in front us was a geodesic dome. I remember squealing about seeing it and trying to snap some photos quickly.

That made me go back to the lab and invent this challenge. Take a look!

Geodesic Domes and a little bit of geometry! This STEM Challenge has problem-solving and collaboration and more! Check this blog post!

There are a few things we discovered when trying to creat our Geodesic Domes!

  • Geometry
  • How to Use a Pipe Cleaner
  • Misshapen Domes
This challenge is to build a geodesic dome! Students will use only two materials for the dome! The challenge involves some research prior to beginning and some discussion of geometric shapes.

Geometry & Research

I knew this dome was a new phenomenon to my fifth graders so we spent some time researching and sketching first.

We discovered quickly that almost all the geodesic domes we found images of consisted of triangular panes of glass.

It didn’t take long for students to notice that those triangle-pieces connected together would create a hexagon!

On to Supplies

We really only used two materials- pipe cleaners and straws. I just happened to have several very large bags of pieces of straws. I save everything! (We did add tape to some of our domes! More about that later.)

STEM -Build a geodesic dome! Students will use only two materials for the dome! The challenge involves some research prior to beginning and some discussion of geometric shapes.

Pipe Cleaners

Okay, so my idea was to take three straw pieces, run a pipe cleaner through them, and twist the ends together. This creates a triangle.

The dangling ends of the pipe cleaners could connect triangles together.

Students tried different ways to connect those triangles.

This worked but it made the structure bulky when they had too many straws connected.

TIP: You might have students that don’t know how to wind the pipe cleaner ends together. We practiced this first before students started working.

STEM -Build a geodesic dome! Students will use only two materials for the dome! The challenge involves some research prior to beginning and some discussion of geometric shapes.

Look at this one in the photo. This team had an idea of overlapping straws to make the triangle shapes.

They tried connected the triangles in places where they just didn’t seem to fit.

Now, here is the good news. When teams began to see the structures not wanting to conform to a geodesic dome shape the pieces were easy to take apart.

Just unwind the pipe cleaner and try a new tactic.

Let's build a geodesic dome! Students will use only two materials for the dome! The challenge involves some research prior to beginning and some discussion of geometric shapes.

Misshapen Domes

We did find that the domes would become an odd shape fairly quickly.

At some point we stopped working to talk about some of the problems we were having. Students offered this piece of advice:

“The straw pieces have to be the same length and tied together with the same tension.”

The one in the photo has no bottom on it because the team could not add straws without pulling the dome into a weird shape.

STEM -Build a geodesic dome! Students will use only two materials for the dome! The challenge involves problem-solving to make the sides of the dome work together.

This is one students had difficulty in creating the dome effect because it was very small.

We found all sorts of ways to create our geodesic domes and a few that were actually rounded (somewhat).

This activity took two class sessions.

And, we did have a few teams that could not create a full dome. Our half domes were taped to the tabletops to make a half geodesic dome!

Best advice! Save those straw pieces and have students make geodesic domes. Geometry, measuring, and problem-solving is going to happen!

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Geodesic Domes and a little bit of geometry! This STEM Challenge has problems to solve as students try to make the dome have the correct shape!