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Van Hiele Levels

A Model for Geometric Understanding

What are the levels?

There are five levels.

Visualization Analysis Informal Deduction Deduction Rigor

The Educational Researchers

Pierre van Hiele Dina van Hiele, his wife Dutch educators Developed theory in 1950s

Characteristics of Levels

Levels are sequential; move through prior levels to get to a level Levels not age dependent Need appropriate experiences to advance Inappropriate experiences inhibit learning


Students recognize and name shapes by appearance Do not recognize properties or if they do, do not use them for sorting or recognition May not recognize shape in different orientation (e.g., shape at right not recognized as square)


Students can identify some properties of shapes Use appropriate vocabulary Cannot explain relationship between shape and properties (e.g., why is second shape not a rectangle?)

Analysis (continued)
Understand that size and orientation do not determine shape Do not make connections between different shapes and their properties (e.g., what do 2 shapes have in common?)

Informal Deduction
Students can see relationships of properties within shapes Recognize interrelationships among shapes or classes of shapes (e.g., where does a rhombus fit among all quadrilaterals?)

Informal Deduction (contd)

Can follow informal proofs (e.g., every square is a rhombus because all sides are congruent) Cannot see which steps of proof can be interchanged Cannot construct a proof


Usually not reached before high school; maybe not until college Can construct proofs in an axiomatic system (e.g., can prove that if two sides and the included angle of one triangle are congruent with the corresponding sides and angle of another triangle, the 2 triangles are congruent)

Deduction (continued)

Understand the importance of deduction in creating a coherent geometry Understand how postulates, axioms, and definitions are used in proofs (e.g., how definition of angle used in SAS proof)

Some students attain this level in college Can compare different axiom systems (e.g., Euclidean versus spherical geometry)

Implications for Instruction All Levels

Use the levels to diagnose where your students are It is important that students have lots of experiences at the appropriate level Levels are not age dependent, so you can move students along the continuum at any age

Implications for Instruction Visualization

Make sure students see shapes in different orientations Make sure students see different sizes of each shape Instruction should be informal

Implications for Instruction Visualization

Provide activities that have students sort shapes, identify and describe shapes (e.g., Venn diagrams) Have students use manipulates Build and draw shapes Put together and take apart shapes

Implications for Instruction Analysis

Activities emphasize classes of shapes and their properties (e.g., all squares have congruent sides, all 4 interior angles are 90 degrees, diagonals are perpendicular bisectors, 4 lines of symmetry, 90 degree rotational symmetry)

Implications for Instruction Analysis

Work with concrete or virtual manipulatives Define properties, make measurements and look for patterns Explore what happens if a measurement or property is changed Discuss what is sufficient to define a shape (e.g., rectangle)

Implications for Instruction Analysis

Use technology (e.g., Geometers Sketchpad) to explore properties Classify shapes based on lists of properties Solve problems involving properties of shapes

I have, Who has Game Create a rectangle in Geometers Sketchpad; measure lengths of two diagonals; measure distances from vertices to point of intersection of diagonals

Implications for Instruction Informal Deduction

Activities involving if then thinking (e.g., if its a square, then ) Creating diagrams showing relationships between different shapes (see right)

Implications for Instruction Informal Deduction

Activities that ask what properties are necessary and/or sufficient to be a certain shape Use informal deductive language (all, some, none, if then)

If all squares are rectangles, does that mean all rectangles are squares? If the two diagonals of a quadrilateral bisect each other, does that guarantee the shape is a rectangle?

Implications for Instruction Informal Deduction

Use examples and counterexamples to develop a definition (e.g., convex polygon) Make and test conjectures about shapes and their properties

Convex Polygons Not Convex Polygons

Next Steps
How can you use what you have learned about van Hiele levels to improve the teaching and learning of geometry in your class?