Let’s Get Them Exploring
One of my goals this year was to create more activities for students to explore upcoming content. I want the students to interact with the material, think about it, and explore the content before they are taught those concepts. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I truly believe that there is a balance that must occur in math education. It is the balance between exploring, direct teaching, skills practice, application of concepts and project-based learning. For myself, I felt that one of my greater areas of focus this year needed to be on creating activities for students to interact with the material in a way that would pique their interest. How could I create activities to help them explore? How could I help them visualize these concepts?
Last week, my students were introduced to surface area, which tends to be one of the more difficult sections of Geometry. It is very difficult for students to visualize the surface area of figures such as rectangular prisms, triangular prisms, and pyramids. If they can’t visualize these shapes and their nets, then it becomes even more difficult for them to calculate the areas of the faces and find the total surface area. In the past, I have had students create the nets of the shapes by drawing it on paper but, even though that was a visual exercise, the students still struggled with drawing these images. More importantly, it took a lot of class time for students to draw them, cut them out, and then glue/tape them together. The amount of time spent on the activity was not producing the learning outcomes that the students needed before diving deeper into the content.
This year, I decided to create an activity on Google Slides to help the students explore surface area. I wanted them to go through the process of calculating surface area without even realizing that the have never been taught this concept. So, I came up with three steps that I wanted them to complete through Google Slides to explore surface area.
Step #1: Create the nets of rectangular prisms, triangular prisms, and pyramids.
The students were provided with the net that is shown below. Their goal was to drag and drop the shapes and measurements to create the net of the rectangular prism.
Once they were done, they should have a shape similar to the one shown below. It’s important to note that the net shown below is not the only way to create the net – there are so many different ways to create nets for the rectangular prism. So, if your student’s nets do not look exactly like your net, it doesn’t mean it is wrong.
I was really impressed with how well the students did with this activity. Of course, there were some students who picked it up quickly and others who did not but, overall, they seemed to get a good grasp of creating nets. By providing the shapes, it helped them to not get stuck on drawing, cutting, or gluing. Instead, they were focusing only on creating the net.
Step #2: Calculate the area for each shape on the net.
Once the students created the nets, they were able to see that there were six rectangles that formed the rectangular prism. From there, the students used the area formula to calculate the area of each rectangle.
By this time, the students had already been introduced to area so they were able to quickly calculate the areas of each rectangle. One of the best learning moments on this slide is when students realize that each area is repeated. For instance, the students were able to discover that if the front was 24in², then the back would also be 24in². This led into a great conversation when the students were introduced to the surface area formula.
Step #3: Calculate the total surface area.
Finally, students calculated the total surface area by finding the sum of the areas of the six faces. At this point, many of the students were realizing that surface area was just an extension of area – a concept in which they felt very confident.
To access this activity, click HERE and create your own copy.
After this activity was completed, my students still completed notes (through flipped instruction), completed some skill practice, and participated in some application based problems. (Again, it’s all about balancing!) However, I feel like this group of students had a stronger understanding of surface area than previous groups by participating in this activity. They were able to explore the concepts before they were taught which created a great interest and understanding of the material.
As always, no activity is ever perfect. So – issues? Time was an issue again. The students all completed the rectangular prism and square prism but many students did not have a chance to complete the last two shapes. Although I wish they had the opportunity, I would rather have them get a strong understanding of the first two, then a decent understanding of all four. Another issue is our trackpads. Our lease is up for our current set of Chromebooks and we are about to send them back to get the next set. This is great because the Chromebooks are starting to get older, the screws keep falling out, and the trackpads are starting to not work. Don’t get me wrong – I would rather of this technology than nothing at all. However, it is a reality that some students had issues dragging and dropping the shapes due to the trackpads not working. Although I keep encouraging them to purchase a mouse, that is not always feasible for every student.
As I’ve mentioned before, feel free to use this activity in your classroom and post comments below. I love any feedback to improve these activities for future students!