Surface Area Activities

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Help your students learn about surface area with some hands-on activities and games. They'll learn what they need to know, and remain engaged and interested throughout.

Learning About Surface Area

Learning equations and multiplying numbers isn't always the best way to understand something. This couldn't be more true for a topic like this one: Surface area is all about visualization. So why not try some of these activities and games to help students explore the topic.

The Gift Box

What better way to learn than by getting a present? Have students wrap up gifts for each other (they can be empty for the sake of the activity, but you could also fill them with candy or have students make gifts for each other around a holiday like Christmas). The key is that they must be wrapping up a geometric shape like a box. When students unwrap their gifts, they can lay the wrapping paper out flat, and calculate the surface area. Then, have students calculate the surface area of the box itself the same way they would in a test question. Are the two numbers the same? For this to work well, the gifts must be wrapped with little to no overlap of the wrapping paper.

3D Shape Nets

Sometimes the easiest way to deeply understand surface area isn't to just wrap up a box, but to put the box together in the first place. For this activity, create nets on cardstock, have students measure the surface area while flat, and then build the 3D shapes themselves. Nets for boxes are pretty easy to find or create, but other shapes can be harder. Use a Toblerone box as a model for a triangular prism. A Pringles box can also be used to create a net for a cylinder. Things like cones and pyramids are harder to find, and will have to be created from scratch without a model. Have students not only construct nets, but learn to draw their own nets for various 3D shapes. Once they've completed such an activity, equations and formulas will make more intuitive sense.

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