It seemed easy to me – 3D geometry problem solving

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I find it interesting (and a bit depressing) that I still sometimes am surprised but which problems my students find hard. I recently made up a 3D geometry problems solving exercise that I thought was kind of interesting and not too challenging. I mean, I knew some students would have trouble with it, but I fully expected the majority of the class to get it, especially since it was group work. Boy was I wrong.

To be fair, the actual math content of the problem was not difficult for them. It was being organized enough to find a way to see the pattern that they had trouble with. The ones who did solve it made a table starting with smaller numbers and quickly saw the pattern.

Here is the problem. I would be interested in any comments any readers might have about it:

You have a large number of small identical cubes in front of you. The surface area of all of these cubes together is 23328 cm2. You start playing with the small cubes and realize you can put them together to build one giant cube with no small cubes left over. The surface area of the big cube is 1944 cm2.

  1. How many small cubes do you have?

  2. What is the area of one face of one of the small cubes?

  3. How long are the edges of each small cube?

  4. What is the volume of the big cube?

  5. What is the volume of each small cube?

Group discussion with post-it notes

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I tried a new idea today that I borrowed from Andrew Knauft, found vid Dan Meyer’s blogg.

I divided my 7th graders into groups of 4 and asked each group to decide which of the number in the set {9, 16, 25, 43} didn’t belong and why. They stuck the post-it on the whiteboard when done and then took another group’s note. They then had to say whether or not they agreed with the reason the other group gave for their decision.

At least that was the plan. The reality was that three of the groups had exactly the same number and reason (43 because it is the only prime number), a fourth group had 43 because it is the only not perfect square. Only the fifth group had anything different.

So then I pulled out another harder problem and set them to work on it. I showed the following picture with this question

“Each of the four cards below has a solid color on one side and a number on the other side. What is the smallest number of cards you need to turn over to decide whether or not the following statement is true: if a card has an even number on one side then the other side is red?”

colorcards

That gave rise to a lot more lively discussion and a lot of disagreement between the different groups on what the right answer was. It was a very fun lesson.