This is a truly thoroughly thought out and beautifully executed program on spatial reasoning.
— A teacher at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a NYC citywide gifted and talented school.

about think3d

what is it?

Think3d teaches the spatial reasoning skills critical to success in math, science, engineering and technology in a sequence of four modules for 3rd through 6th grade students. Cast as engineers, students define engineering problems and design solutions. They learn through the playful transformation of a flat lifeless piece of paper into three dimensions. Origami flapping butterflies and scuttling mice make way for paper engineered whales, cities, words and numbers. Students translate diagrams into three-dimensional models and reverse engineer models. They visualize paper, folding and mentally manipulate three-dimensional models. They construct algorithms and analyze cause and effect, pattern, symmetry and scale. 

what’s in the box?

But I can’t stay home. It’s paper engineering day!
— Quote from a student encouraged by her mom to stay home from school when she woke not feeling well.

The contents of the think3d! box are displayed in the image at the top of the page. Each think3d! box includes six sets (A through F) of spatial reasoning and engineering design challenges for 2 students. (The Think3d program is delivered to classrooms as multiple think3d! boxes, 2 students per box.) The re-usable graphic folders contain diagrams for 2-D to 3-D transformations, pre-constructed models for reverse engineering, in-between challenges, origami paper, and paper for single sheet and applied engineering.

*Recycle/re-use: During the course of the program, students design and engineer their own models and transform the 2-D paper contents of the think3d! box into 3-D models.

why do it?

Spatial thinking is critical to learning math and science. Research has shown that spatial thinking is a predictor of students' success and perseverance in science, technology, engineering and math and, later, of innovation in STEM fields. Think3d is designed to align with the Common Core State Standards as they relate to STEM education. Think3d also aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards Initiative and its commitment to "raise engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry in classroom instruction."  

how do students engage with it?

Casting students as engineers, teachers give each pair a think3d! box. Each of the six folders within the module contains a set of engineering design challenges. The graphics on each folder explain the process and define the core STEM concepts and vocabulary. Using the diagrams and pre-constructed models, students fold and cut, sharing insights with their partner and table group, to solve the challenges. In the process of constructing three-dimensional models, they compare their work, look for where a step went awry, discover new solutions and define new challenges. The Think3d materials encourage problem solving, collaboration and innovation. The engineered models fold flat. Once the session is finished and the boxes are re-packed, students are set to pick up the sequence of challenges in the next session. Many students continue thinking about the challenges and keep working on the concepts between the sessions, in their school free time and at home. 

how do I implement it?

The teacher’s role is that of facilitator; the program was designed to unfold in the students hands, with little prep-time required for the teacher. The on-line tutorials give teachers a preview of each spatial reasoning challenge within a folder set. Teachers give each pair of students a think3d! box. Students work through the sequence of engineering design challenges. The graphics on each folder explain the process and define the core STEM concepts and vocabulary. The engineered models fold flat. Students re-pack the think3d! box at the end of each session, ready to pick-up the sequence of challenges in the next session. The dimensions of an oversize art book, teachers can store the think3d! boxes on a bookshelf with the student names on the binding, or, students can keep the box in their desk.

is it adaptable?


Implementation of the curriculum in the classroom was designed to be highly adaptable. Each folder within a module contains a set of engineering design challenges - a sequence of discrete spatial reasoning challenges. The challenges inspire exploration beyond the session time at the students' initiative. Teachers decide what works in their classroom. Here are a few examples:

  • Used as a six–twelve week program in the classroom: Over the course of 6-12 weeks, the teacher sets aside 45-minute to one hour blocks of time to introduce new material sets and the corresponding spatial reasoning challenges.

  • Used as a half year program: A teacher introduces individual challenges within each set sequentially, setting aside a smaller amount of time. 

  • Used as an intensive camp:  Each morning or afternoon session, a new material set is introduced. Teachers can use extra sessions to dig deeper into lessons that are the most compelling for their students. The material sets encourage exploration beyond the specific included spatial reasoning challenges.

  • Used as an independent project that 2 students can work on together during choice time or enrichment periods, or in a homeschool setting: Students work through the material sets and challenges sequentially, but, at their own pace, allowing more time for exploration of the materials.

First, the progression and sequencing of instruction is just elegant. Secondly, the way the program sets the stage for extensions of learning at the student’s initiative is very gratifying to see
— Bruce Williams, Superintendent of Two Rivers Supervisory Union, VT

who designed it?

Think3d was designed by an architect, Allyson Hutton, in collaboration with the director of the Tufts University Spatial Cognition Lab and professor of cognitive psychology, Holly Taylor. 

Think3d is founded on engineering design principles. Students learn to define engineering problems, design solutions and optimize those solutions. In their exploration, they translate two-dimensional diagrams into three-dimensional models and reverse engineer, analyzing three-dimensional models and inferring the steps needed to create the models. Throughout their exploration, students construct algorithms and analyze cause and effect. They are challenged to recognize and explore pattern, symmetry and scale. Translating diagram to model and model to diagram, students mentally manipulate three-dimensional forms and practice visualization and mental paper folding. Lessons inspire independent exploration as students define their own design challenges and engineer solutions. Imaginative and innovative models emerge. Fun and engaging, Think3d inspires children to continue learning beyond the lesson time with paper, a resource available to almost every child at school and at home.

It’s really, really fun and really, really cool and I really like it. It feels like it has nothing to do with learning but probably in your brain there is this thing that it does that makes you smarter, and that’s cool.
— A private school student in Brooklyn, NY

core concepts

A Public Benefit Corporation, Think3d's mission is to have a broad impact on STEM education. Think3d was designed with these guiding principles: 

Design Matters  A fundamental premise of Think3d is that design matters; good design teaches, engages and inspires, and children will respond to it in extraordinary ways.

The Curriculum Aligns with Relevant Standards  Think3d aligns with the Common Core State Standards as they relate to STEM education. Think3d also aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards Initiative and its commitment to "raise engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry in classroom instruction."   

The Curriculum Appeals to All Children  Think3d engages all children, cutting across gender stereotypes and challenging a range of students, both those for whom science and math come easily and those recognizably struggling academically and/or behaviorally.

Students are Inspired to Continue Learning Outside the Classroom  Designed as catalysts, Think3d challenges inspire students to explore between lessons (at home, and during choice or recess times at school) thus magnifying the impact of the curriculum by training spatial reasoning skills beyond the lesson times. 


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