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Once a week we will be featuring a fun and/or educational activity you can try at home or in the classroom. We thought this book and accompanying activity would be great for fathers and children to share this Father's Day weekend.

This book, Winter in Songming, is about a boy who can't wait to help his dad build an addition to his home and takes place in Songming, a small village in China much like villages Heifer has worked with around the world.

In the story, Zadou’s father is in charge of setting the corners and making sure they are “square corners.” This means he makes sure the corners of the walls meet at a 90-degree angle, which is necessary for square or rectangle rooms. People in rural parts of China usually have only basic tools to use in construction. When building walls that need to meet at right angles, they build the foundation level and then use string to make sure the diagonals between the opposite corners of the room are equal length. This ensures that the four corners are all 90 degree angles. Here’s a way you can try this technique yourself.

What you'll need:

  • Ruler, meter stick, yardstick or measuring tape
  • Cardboard packing box (can vary in size)
  • A House and Geometric Vocabulary handout (p. 5-4)
  • Crayons (preferably red, yellow and green)
  • Measuring Angles handout (p. 5-5)
  • Protractor or angle ruler

Remove all top and bottom flaps from the box, leaving only the four connected sides. Notice the various parallelograms that can be made by pushing in on the sides of the box. Hold the box in any parallelogram shape. Measure the diagonal lengths between opposite corners of the box and record your measurements. Adjust the box until the corners appear to be right angles. Measure the diagonals; notice that when right angles are achieved, the diagonals are of equal length.

When two straight lines cross, the intersection creates angles. To see this for yourself draw several non-parallel lines that intersect. As one of you draw a pair of intersecting lines, another should identify and mark the angles.

Look at the examples of angles and parallel/intersecting lines on the A House and Geometric Vocabulary handout. Find and color other examples on the page.

You can measure the angles you previously found with the protractor or angle ruler, as well as on the handout Measuring Angles and have students complete it.

You can find right angles in many places. Look around your house and identify the right angles you see: corners where walls meet, and where the walls and floor meet. What would happen if the walls met the floor at an acute angle or an obtuse angle? In either situation, the wall would be leaning either in or out; it would not be stable and would likely collapse. What would happen if you were trying to build a rectangular room and one corner of the room had two walls meeting at an acute angle. What if they met at an obtuse angle? The walls would angle either too far in or too wide and would not meet the other corners at a right angle.

You are probably familiar with the paper folding craft known as origami. While often associated with Japan, paper folding is a traditional craft in many areas of East Asia, including China. Paper folding is also a fantastic tool to learn about geometric concepts. You can make a simple box using folded paper. While making the box, try to identify the parallel lines, intersecting lines and angles in the folds they are making in the paper. 

Heifer provides many resources to community groups, including knowledge and technical training. For example, instead of providing just an animal, field workers provide training on how to care for the animal. When a Heifer International project includes other factors such as constructing a house, a stable for animals or a kitchen area, we provides technical training on how to construct the building. Someone in charge of important parts of the construction of buildings, like Zadou’s father, would receive training from Heifer International field workers or local organizations that work together with us. Read about Zhang Hui and his family, who are Heifer project participants who are lifting themselves out of poverty with Heifer's help, including adding a second floor to their house, much like the family in Winter in Songming,

For more activities, check out Heifer’s lesson plans and classroom activities in the Classroom Resources section of our website.


Linda Meyers

Linda Meyers, an Arkansas transplant originally from St. Louis, Mo., started working at Heifer International in 2011. She enjoys dragging her three children on nature hikes and snapping photos of them and everything around her. She has a bachelor’s degree in English has been “in the process” of writing the great American novel for 24 years.