Engaging students: Volume and surface area of pyramids and cones

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Angel Pacheco. His topic, from Geometry: finding the volume and surface area of pyramids and cones.

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How has this topic appeared in high culture (art, classical music, theatre, etc.)?


Show an example of the pyramid of Giza, give them dimensions of the pyramid as well as the dimensions of the blocks that were used to build it and have the students guess how many blocks it took to build it. The students can use this as a competitive edge to want to get the correct answer. Students will have to solve for the surface area of the pyramid and the area of the face of the block. There can also be an example where I will tell the students if the pyramid was fill of blocks and they’re given the dimensions of the pyramid and block. They then find the volume of both to determine how many blocks can fill in the pyramid.


I will then show an image of a Greek amphitheater and explain how it resembles a cone. I will give them dimensions of a Greek amphitheater and have them find the surface area and the volume of cone if the amphitheater was folded into a cylinder.


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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Students will be reintroduce to the volume of a cone in multivariable calculus when they learn about triple integrals and the different forms of integrals, like Cartesian, Polar, and Spherical coordinates. Surface Area and Volume of both the shapes will be seen in architectural engineering whenever they come across an assignment or job that requires them to find how big the cone or pyramid is in their draft of a monument or building.

This topic can also assist the students in their Geometry class in high school as well as college level. In mathematics, it’s better if there is a stronger foundation build in the early ages. When students face volume and surface area of pyramids and cones, they will gain more knowledge of the concept as time progresses. It’s always good to start early. Talking to students about different shapes and their areas and volumes gives them perspective in geometry.


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How have different cultures throughout time used this topic in their society?

In Ancient Greece, there were famous scientists that contained vast amount of knowledge. For example, Thales of Miletus and Democritus were some of the scientists that used surface area and volumes of cones and pyramids. Democritus was one of the first to observe that cones and square pyramids were one third of the volume of a cylinder and prism, respectively if they have similar measurements. I would use this as an engagement because Greek mythology is pretty popular. This could be used to show students that the math they are doing today is similar to the math that was done in the past, ancient past.

In Ancient Egypt, square pyramids were used to create the famous pyramids of Egypt such as the Pyramid of Giza. Pyramids were used to idolize their kings. The Mayan Indians also used pyramids to idolize their leaders. Bringing up different examples of different cultures that talk about the shapes they see in class then it can grab their attention. The link below is a lesson that talks about surface area and volume of cones and pyramids. It seems as an effective tool to assess students if they understand the concepts of SA and Volume.

Source: http://www.cordonline.net/cci_bridges_pdfs/Bridges12_12-5.pdf


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1 Comment

  1. relatively helpful, base from my students’ point of understanding. ^^


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