Surface area can be a very tricky concept for 7th grade minds. It has a lot of moving parts in it and sometimes it is just too much for these little balls of craziness. I feel like with this topic you really have to go back to finding area, and then work your way through a forest of prerequisite skills. At the end of the tunnel you will come out with them having an understanding of what they are doing. Also, with this topic in particular I think there are many ways to get it and each students should use the way that works with them. Therefore, in this post I will show you how I chunk the learning for surface area through I can statements.
What I want my students to ultimately be able to do with surface area
In our pacing guide we lump surface area and volume of prisms and pyramids together. That seems like a good idea because they come from the same standard. I’m not sure it is the best idea, though. First, students are already familiar with volume. Second, surface area is a beast of its own. So, I am going to treat them as two different topics. I use I can statements to keep track of the unit in students’ interactive notebook as a way of chunking learning. If you want to learn more about using I can statements to plan lessons and chunk learning read this post. Here is the list of I can statements that I used for this unit:
- I can find the area of triangles and quadrilaterals.
- I can determine the net of a 3D shape.
- I can find the surface area of cubes, prisms, and pyramids.
- I can solve real world problems involving area and surface area.
We write or put a half page of the I can statement in our interactive notebooks at the beginning of each unit. Then, we refer to them everyday and keep track of our progress. This works really well to get students connecting their individual learning to the daily task. The sequence and I can statements are not set in stone, though. You may need to add one or take one away, so don’t be afraid to do that. You want to meet the needs of your students and your own scope and sequence.
I can find the area of triangles and quadrilaterals.
I work with students who struggle in math and many times they never mastered topics from other grade level, so I make sure to give them support with lots of prerequisite skills. Even students who are on grade level can benefit from a refresher. Reviewing finding the area of triangles and quadrilaterals is a concept that I spend an entire class period on.
My colleagues and I go back and forth on whether to include trapezoids in this refresher section. Personally, I think you have to include it because students won’t just intuitively know how to do it. So, I focus on triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids. Also, we do a discovery lab for area of those shapes and we put examples in a foldable in our interactive notebook.
I can determine the net of a 3D shape.
The breaking down of a 3D shape doesn’t come easy to everyone. Some kids see it and don’t have a hard time drawing it right from the start. Other kids have a difficult time visualizing what the net would look like. We do a lot of practice with physical shapes and 2D representations of them. I feel like this just takes a lot of time. You just have to keep showing these shapes to them in different ways and having them describe what they see. This builds up their schema, or background knowledge, in this area. Many of them lack schema and you can consider this your chance to build it.
Also, we do a few matching activities and games with these plastic nets. If there is someone at your school who purchases manipulatives for your classes, then I would suggest getting these plastic nets. We use Title I funds to buy them and they last for a long time. They are invaluable for helping students understand how the nets of shapes relate to 3D shapes.
I can find the surface area of cubes, prisms, and pyramids.
Next, students work to master the goal, “I can find the surface area of cubes, prisms, and pyramids.” This is a *huge* I can statement. Consequently, you can break it down into specific shapes. There are so many skills involved. You can consider it a win if a student can find the surface area of a cube even though they can’t do all shapes. What seems like a small achievement for some kids is huge progress. Typically, we are not given enough time to get every kids to mastery of a huge concepts in a couple of day. I look for small wins and then build on them throughout the rest of the year. My students just do a lot of practice with this I can statement. We do partner work, small group, and whole class activities. The key is to get them trying.
I can solve real-world problems involving area and surface area.
Finally, we work toward the goal, “I can solve real-world problems involving area and surface area.” If students have proficiency in finding surface area, then these types of problems won’t be so hard. We read the problems and use the C.U.B.E.S. method to annotate the word problem. The key is making sure we know which shape we are finding the surface area of and identifying if they want us to do something else. Like in the example above, sometimes you have to subtract a part of the shape. Other times you may have to multiply the shapes because there are more than one of them. These basic word problem skills come into play during this phase of the learning.
Misconceptions for Solving Surface Area Problems
What trips students up when using surface area? For one thing, students mix-up surface area and volume a lot. You can teach them in different order or together. It doesn’t seem to matter. My 7th grade students have been doing volume for a couple of year, so when they see 3D shapes their brains go straight to volume. Some of them do this even after my “awesome” lesson on finding surface area. However, you just have to battle through it. In addition, you have to keep showing them both surface area and volume problems, and have the students identify the differences. Remember, students should identify and describe the differences in writing and speaking.
Another misstep is just keeping all the information organized. To battle this challengs, I would suggest to let your students use a method that works for them. We all organize information differently and if they find a way that works, then let them do it. You will need to model different ways to solve these problems. And memorizing a whole bunch of formulas usually won’t work.
Take-Aways and putting it into practice
Using the I can statements as path for learning works really well in my classroom. I have seen students have a lot of success with it. When they are aware of the learning goals in the class, they are more engaged in the lesson. At any rate, this is a complicated topic and students need to master prerequisite skills first.
Now, it’s your turn. I’d love for you to take these surface area I can statements (or your own version of them) and implement them in your classroom. I’d love to hear about your experiences!
If you need a good set of surface area task cards that follow this topic sequence, then check this set out.
Join the Maze of the Month Club
Join to get exclusive free math mazes every month!