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Sections

  • Introduction, Question, and Purpose
  • School and Classroom Context
  • Literature Summary
  • Description of Method
  • 4.1 Outline of surface area and volume unit
  • 4.2 Pre-assessment
  • 4.3 Clinical interviews
  • Analysis and Findings
  • 5.1 Pre-assessment analysis
  • 5.2 Case study: Travis
  • 5.3 Case study: Nadia
  • 5.4 Case study: Yolanda
  • 5.5 Case study: Ryan
  • 5.6 Case study: Isabella
  • 5.7 Case study: Martha
  • Reflection and Implications
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

Students’ Understanding of Volume and How it Affects Their Problem Solving

A Classroom Research Project submitted to The Master of Arts in Teaching Program of Bard College by David Price

Annandale-on-Hudson, New York May 24, 2012

Contents

1 Introduction, Question, and Purpose 2 School and Classroom Context 3 Literature Summary

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4 Description of Method 11 4.1 Outline of surface area and volume unit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 4.2 Pre-assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 4.3 Clinical interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 5 Analysis and Findings 5.1 Pre-assessment analysis 5.2 Case study: Travis . . . 5.3 Case study: Nadia . . . 5.4 Case study: Yolanda . . 5.5 Case study: Ryan . . . . 5.6 Case study: Isabella . . 5.7 Case study: Martha . . 15 15 21 24 27 30 33 37 40 44 45

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6 Reflection and Implications Bibliography Appendix

List of Figures

5.2.1 Travis’s response to Question 9 on the pre-assessment. . . . . . . . . . 5.3.1 Nadia’s work on the last question in our interview. . . . . . . . . . . . 5.5.1 Ryan’s work on the last question in our interview. . . . . . . . . . . . 5.6.1 Isabella’s pre-assessment definitions of area, surface area, and volume. 5.6.2 Isabella’s solution to Problem 8 on the pre-assessment. . . . . . . . . 5.7.1 Martha’s solution to Problem 2 on the pre-assessment. . . . . . . . . 5.7.2 Martha’s definition of surface area. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.7.3 Martha’s answer to Question 9 on the pre-assessment. . . . . . . . . .

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and thus I wanted to learn more about the thought . Question. this led to a discussion of the notion of area and how the concepts of area and perimeter are reflected in the formulas that students must memorize. and Purpose This project is centered on my students’ understanding of surface area and volume. The surface area and volume formulas required of students on the Regents examination are only more numerous and difficult to apply (even with a reference sheet). I wanted to see what my students’ conceptual understandings of surface area and volume were and then explore how their conceptual understandings correlated with their use of traditional formulas for finding those quantities for various solids such as prisms and cylinders. specifically in the context of problems similar to those on the New York State Regents Examination in Geometry.1 Introduction. This led to the following guiding question for my research: how are my students’ understandings of volume and surface area tied to the methods they use to grapple with Regents Geometry problems on those topics? I was attracted to this line of questioning when my students had difficulty keeping straight the formulas for area and circumference of a circle in a previous unit.

Another important factor I found myself investigating was how students grab context clues from problems to help themselves decide whether to calculate surface area or volume. Perhaps more interesting were some of the incorrect ways in which students brought their prior knowledge of surface area and volume (both abstract and applied) to bear on problems they were solving for the first time. For example. .1. AND PURPOSE 4 processes of my students when they were deciding which formula to use and deciding between finding surface area and finding volume. this notion is highlighted in questions on rectangular prisms and questions involving the number of unit cubes that can fit into a shape. a square has area. It is connected to an understanding of dimension. a segment has length. but I wanted to investigate how my students’ grasp of these two different notions did or did not affect their ability to solve traditional volume problems. QUESTION. The first is that of “packing”. this idea is apparent when students are asked to verify empirically the volume of a cone or pyramid. students with a grasp of the three-dimensional nature of volume were often quick to figure out that it was necessary to find volume in a problem which mentioned cubic feet. The second notion of volume is that of “filling”. INTRODUCTION. and a cube has volume. One major sub-question in this project is how my students understand and reconcile two notions of volume. Of course these two understandings are of the same quantity.

Most students were in the tenth grade. eleventh. Students’ grades are calculated completely on whether or not they have achieved “mastery” on particular targets. mastery was assessed in the form of a weekly or biweekly period-long written assessment which included up to ten learning targets from the current semester. When this project was conducted.2 School and Classroom Context This research project took place with students from the three sections of Geometry taught at the Bronx Academy of Letters. The school-wide grading system at BAL is based on “learning targets” rather than traditional grades. “approaching mastery” (no credit). Student desks were gathered in groups of three or four. For the geometry students studied here. or twelfth. although some students made the choice or had been asked to sit and work independently during class time. On each target. Effective class size ranged from approximately twelve students in the smallest section to approximately 25 students in the largest and bestattended section. approximately 40 out of 65 students were registered to take the New York State Regents High School Examination in Geometry in June 2012. although a handful were in ninth. students received “mastery” (full credit). or “remote .

The high school has an enrollment of approximately 330 students. and 19% of the student body is deemed “college-ready” by the New York City Department of Education. 75 or more. Students taking the Regents took a more difficult version of each Learning Target Assessment. For example. . these students are integrated into the classes studied. The student body is 34% Black or African-American. 65% Hispanic or Latino. Approximately 85% of the student population is eligible for free or reduced lunch. the four-year graduation rate is 83% (with that figure rising to 94% for six years). Each student’s goal was determined by their prior performance and an individual conversation between my mentor teacher and the student. All demographic data is from [9].2. and 1% Asian or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. this was in the interest of reflecting long-term retention and deemphasizing how long it took a student to master a given target. The total number of targets out of which a student was graded was also determined by their goal for the class. drawing the vast majority of its student body from the surrounding neighborhoods in the South Bronx. Geometry students in my placement had one of four goals for the class: achieve a score or 85 or more on the Regents exam. 10% of the school is classified as ELL and 21% as Special Education. or simply pass the class. The Bronx Academy of Letters consists of a high school and a middle school. SCHOOL AND CLASSROOM CONTEXT 6 mastery” (no credit). the 85+ group was graded out of 16 targets and the 75+ group was graded out of 11 targets. A student’s grade on a given target was his or her mastery level as of the last time assessed. 65 or more. when there were 18 targets total at one point in the semester.

but such a statement is intelligible only if it is understood that the area itself is reducible to lines. from repeated addition of discrete quantities to a continuous operation. “developing measurement sense is more complex than learning the skills or procedures for determining a measure.3 Literature Summary Childrens’ conceptions of volume and three-dimensional space have been studied extensively. however.e. In [11]. As put in [8]. Indeed a rigorous treatment of area and volume (i. This same phenomena is at work when children experience difficulty understanding and working with volume. classroom instruction is mainly focused on memorizing the formulas . Piaget and Inhelder describe the difficulty of genuine two. We know that the area of a square is given by the length of its sides. In other words. because a two-dimensional continuum amounts to an uninterrupted matrix of one-dimensional continua (350).and threedimensional thinking: Hence the systematic difficulty found by children at earlier levels when trying to relate areas and volumes with linear quantities. . . a deep understanding is difficult to achieve since it requires a huge leap in the understanding of multiplication. The child thinks of the area as a space bounded by a line which is why he cannot understand how lines produce areas. measure theory) is significantly more difficult than the computation generally required of high schoolers when solving volume problems.

In short. and thus stand to affect how students solve volume problems. on the other hand. fill it with water and measure the volume of the water in another container. different notions of volume and analogies used to describe volume serve to color individuals’ understandings of volume. they do come to class with ideas.” terminology used in [3] and throughout this paper. The notion of volume (packing) is related to the analogy of cubes. while both concepts of volume are of course accurate. especially with volume and other physical quantities. it is claimed that an understanding of area is a prerequisite for an understanding of volume (packing). The notion of volume (packing) is inherently three-dimensional. [2. The primary distinction made in the literature (e. require different sets of prerequisite skills. This means that a unit on volume must aim .3. they are arrived at in very different ways. is a notion of volume as measured by a fluid. In [7] it is noted that. Volume and surface area are two topics for which developing a rigorous and robust concept of the ideas in play is significantly harder than any of the mathematical operations required to solve many related problems. often ill-formed. This distinction is further supported in [5]. indeed. 3. 5]) is that of “volume (packing)” versus “volume (filling). while such ability is less necessary when volume is taught in terms of filling or capacity. LITERATURE SUMMARY 8 to solve problems requiring low level of cognitive demand” (62). while volume (filling) is more linear. to find the volume of a shape. “because students have experienced and thought about the world. as well as their ability to parse and solve different volume problems. in [3]. Another issue encountered when teaching and learning about volume and surface area is the gap between concrete and abstract understandings of volume. but ideas nevertheless” (742). and inappropriate. in which it is shown that students arrive at a concept of volume (filling) only with strong three-dimensional visualization skills. hazy. Volume (filling). the number of unit cubes which can fit inside a three-dimensional object is a measure of that object’s volume. while only an understanding of length is required to acquire a notion of volume (filling).g. Furthermore.

according to [6]. . and abstract the prior knowledge of students. the child’s mind. in which “students identify and operate on shapes and other geometric configurations as visual wholes. volume may indeed still seem only a confusing list of unrelated formulas with no theoretical unifying idea tying them together. according to Piaget in [10]. 126). By using interviews to get at student ideas (as opposed to mere . sometimes involves the same activities as those comprising formative assessment: understanding the mathematics. the trajectories. In [1]. and using general principles of instruction to inform the teaching of a child or group of children” ([6]. For a student at this level of thinking. This transition from the concrete and specific to the abstract and general is always a difficult jump in mathematical thinking. since. LITERATURE SUMMARY 9 to help clarify. and “the problem is in fact none other than that of the physical and experimental nature of mathematics as opposed to its being of an a priori and purely intellectual character” (380). extend. At the same time. since one of the difficulties many students experience is precisely that their personal concept of volume is somehow flawed and is the driving force behind their incorrect answers to problems. Clinical interviews are one type of tool that can be used to access these understandings. This leaves last the issue of how to access students’ understandings of volume. the difficulty of understanding spatial concepts lies in this jump.3. interviews can inform teaching. they do not explicitly attend to geometric properties or to traits that are characteristic of the class of figures represented” (88). “the interviewer makes every effort to be child-centered–to see the issues from the child’s point of view” (113). Battista argues that the first level of geometric thinking consists of interacting with concrete objects in isolated episodes. This sort of low-stakes and investigative conversation allows the interviewer to discover more about a child’s thinking than is possible in a traditional classroom setting. the obstacles. something that may be particularly difficult when teaching a topic that can range from the very concrete to the very abstract. since “good teaching. .

. it is possible to understand more deeply the source of their misunderstandings about volume and other mathematical concepts.3. LITERATURE SUMMARY 10 answers).

Students were selected for interviews based on availability and output produced on the pre-assessment. More detailed lesson plans and tasks for the days which pertain to this project can be found in the appendix. the data collection consisted primarily of work collected from the pre-assessment and clinical interviews conducted with students. . See the appendix for a copy of the pre-assessment. Day 1: Students were given 25 minutes to work on a pre-assessment task involving area.1 Outline of surface area and volume unit The field component of this project took place from May 9 to May 18. The following is a timeline of the unit and data collection for this project. as well as traditional volume problems. and problems asking students to determine what quantity was being asked for in a particular word problem. surface area. Questions included those asking for students’ “own words” definition of surface area and volume. and volume. most of whom attended “office hours” mandatory for those signed up for the Regents Examination (approximately three fourths of the students fall into this category).4 Description of Method 4. 2012. surface area. and volume. Starting with a pre-assessment task on area.

Day 4: Objective: To extend student knowledge of rectangular prisms to non-rectangular prisms. Students continued the task of the previous day and solved more traditional rectangular prism problems. Students investigated and solved problems involving the surface area and volume of triangular prisms. Students began to work through a task involving the volume of rectangular prisms. three targets were included on volume and surface area. Day 3: Objective: To strengthen student knowledge of rectangular prisms’ volume and surface area.” 21: “I can find the volume of basic prisms and use it to solve problems. framed by the following questions: “How can we use our knowledge of rectangular prisms on other prisms? What still works and what doesn’t?” Day 5: [Continuation of previous day’s work.” Two clinical interviews (Travis and Yolanda) were conducted on this day. 20: “I can define volume and surface area and recognize them in context. students also investigated the surface area to volume ratios of their prisms and collected data from their classmates. A copy of these targets and test questions can be found in the appendix.” 22: “I can find the surface area of basic prisms and use it to solve problems. DESCRIPTION OF METHOD 12 Day 2: Objective: To discover the properties of rectangular prisms and investigate their volumes. .4.] Day 6: First Learning Target Assessment to include volume and surface area. A copy of the lesson plan and task for this day is included in the appendix. In addition to more traditional volume and surface area questions. In addition to six targets from earlier units.

and pyramids. and questions which asked students whether finding surface area or volume was more appropriate in a certain context. They also investigated the lateral area of cylinders by measuring canned goods and their labels. questions asking for students’ notions of area.” 24: “I can find and apply facts about the lateral area of cylinders and cones. Day 9: Continuation of cones (beyond the scope of this project). Day 11: Second Learning Target Assessment of volume and surface area unit. to solve problems involving these quantities. cones.2 Pre-assessment All of my geometry students who were present on May 9 were given a 25 minute preassessment to help me gauge their prior knowledge concerning area and volume. Day 10: Volume of cones and pyramids (beyond the scope of this project. a question asking how to find the volume of an irregular shape. two questions involving nets which folded into three-dimensional shapes. . Isabella. One interview (Nadia) was conducted. With students who were present. DESCRIPTION OF METHOD 13 Day 7: Objective: To investigate the volume and surface area of cylinders. surface area. Martha) were conducted.4. Day 8: Most students absent on field trip. Two new learning targets: 23: “I can find and apply facts about the volume of cylinders. continuation of cylinders and comparison to cones. two Regents geometry questions on volume (with the formula provided for one and not the other). The pre-assessment consisted of a question each about the surface area and volume of a rectangular prism. end of unit). Three interviews (Ryan. A copy of the plan and task can be found in the appendix.” 4. and volume. Students investigated the volume of cylinders by finding the volume of beakers and graduated cylinders.

I considered their work on the pre-assessment. Each student’s goal is included in the analysis of their interview. A copy of the pre-assessment can be found in the appendix. I was unable to wait until after the unit to interview any students. I interviewed six students during various free times in the school day. 4. This ordering of interviews was only approximate for logistical reasons and thus the day of each student interview is included to put their answers in the context of the unit. they each followed the same basic structure and all included the slightly modified Regents examination questions. While the format of every interview differed. According to [4]. and their willingness to help me with my project.4. and so a larger portion of their interviews is centered on their conceptual understandings. Due to the fact that this unit culminated on the last day of my student teaching placement. earlier interviews are with students from the “higher” brackets. and so on. This gave me a rough idea of who I could interview earlier in the unit.3 Clinical interviews Over the course of the unit. DESCRIPTION OF METHOD 14 Students were allowed calculators but no Regents examination formula sheets. . the types of questions they asked in class. An outline of the interview questions and the sheets shown to the students interviewed can be found in the appendix. In addition to this. these students often had the most interesting conceptual ideas of surface area and volume. it is crucial during such interviews to “not include questions that are outside the realm of what the respondent can answer” (103) and thus interviews with students with weaker computational skills were often shorter. I attempted to order my interviews by the individual Regents/non-Regents goals of the students selected. When selecting students.

Counting a numerically correct answer with incorrect units as correct. 26 out of 52 students found the volume of the rectangular prism correctly and none found the surface area (most papers being left blank on that question). and volume. surface area.1 Pre-assessment analysis The first two pre-assessment questions which are analyzed in this project asked students to find the volume (Q2) and surface area (Q3) a rectangular prism measuring 5 inches by 7 inches by 4 inches. with a blank space denoting a blank answer and brackets denoting descriptions of a drawing or a formula. A notable trend in the definitions of surface area was comparison to the concept of perimeter. . The next questions asked for students’ definitions of area.5 Analysis and Findings 5. respectively. their responses are included in Table 1. phrased in terms of one inch cubes and wrapping paper. Several students also used the word “mass” in their definition of volume. Notable patterns included several students whose concepts of area and volume were tied to that of rectangles and rectangular prisms. respectively.

The next question (Q9) asked for methods to find the volume of an irregular shape. volume. presumably multiplying the length. An “A” in the table denotes an answer suggesting an understanding of the additivity of volume. “how much soup in a can?”). width. The first asked for the volume of a triangular prism (with no formula provided) and the second asked for the volume of a square pyramid (with a formula provided). An “M” in the table denotes an answer involving the need to know the measurements of the shape before proceeding to find the volume.5. The answers students gave fell into three rough categories. and height. students are scored out of seven. Most students left this question blank. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 16 The next two questions (Q7 and Q8) on the pre-assessment that are analyzed here were Regents Geometry exam questions. Any answer of which I could not make sense is marked with a question mark.g. however. these answers mostly included some version of “you have to find the length. There were no correct answers to the first of these questions. The last question (Q10) asked students to decide whether it was more appropriate to find surface area.” suggesting a connection in these students’ minds between the general concept of volume and the formula for the volume of a rectangular prism. the score of any student with a reasonable justification for an “incorrect” answer is marked with an asterisk. All of these students identified three components of the shape and correctly claimed in some form that it was sufficient to find the volume of each component and add one’s answers to find the volume of the entire shape. Four students correctly answered the second of these questions. Several questions have multiple justifiable answers. . width. ten students got twice the correct answer. and height they saw labeled in the picture. or neither in certain contexts (e. In Table 1. many students who answered incorrectly used one of the dimensions of the base instead of the area of the base when using the formula. An “F” in the table denotes an answer involving filling the shape with liquid (the shape was referred to as a “cup” in the assessment).

many students would multiply only two lengths to find the volume of an object. an operation which would be dissonant to a student who understood in a deeper way the invariantly three-dimensional nature of volume and how units in different dimensions relate to each other. two definitions which I then tried to reinforce over the course of the unit with multiple explanations and analogies. two-dimensional pictures of solids. For example. Third. With this in mind. two-dimensional nets which folded into three-dimensional objects. This led me to focus on units and dimension more than previously planned. as I had been warned by my mentor teacher. many of my students seemed to confuse volume and surface area. For example.5. my students’ grasp of dimension was often shaky. but no students did. and verbal descriptions of three-dimensional objects. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 17 I found that my students did not do nearly as well on the pre-assessment as I had predicted. This led me to build in more hands-on activities with solids than I had previously planned and spend more time during debriefs and mini-lessons discussing the visualization of three-dimensional objects. Second. First. there were several ways in which I found myself reevaluating the needs of my students as a group as we went into the surface area and volume unit. albeit in small ways in the course of an activity or mini-lesson. my students struggled to translate mentally between three-dimensional objects. . I had expected that at least some students would correctly compute the surface area of a rectangular prism and the volume of a triangular prism.

37 ? 96.33 A M 3 2 8 16 inches (Martha) of cubes 9 116 inch measurement of a cubes shape amount of square The inside The measurement of How much the shape the front of a shape can hold Mass of a figure 4* 10 (Ryan) 34 boxes units on the inside of 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19600* 140 ft 140 140 140 700 Base multiplied by height The amount of space the figure LxW area is the side of a square or triangle SA=lw*lh*wh [picture of circle] LxwxH V=LxWxH 4 280 70 x 4 280 The amount of space inside What's outside How much something can contain [formula for volume of pyramid] The amount of space inside 95.3 Q9 N/A Q10 N/A 70 28 1830.566… in any [?] .3 M 3 2 The amount of space The amount of space inside a shape or outside a shape or figure figure The amount of space outside What's inside ? 3 280 28 M 3 2 6 12.6 * 7 (Travis) 19600 The amount inside a The distance around The mass of a figure 78400* figure a figure ? Outside/around the perimeter is the surface area [drawing of cylinder] 96.Table 1: Student pre-assessment data Student KEY 1 2 3 4 5 90 12 35 140 Q2 140 Area Various inside of a shape [circumference of circle formula] something inside a shape F Perimeter added or multiplied all up measurement of whats inside the object [SA of sphere formula] [Volume of Sphere formula] The volume of something everything inside base x height measurements of the how much space in whole object and all inside the object the sides not just the perimeter Surface Area Various Volume Various Q7 140 Q8 1830.3 40 289 A 2* 2 ? 6 140 157 107.

3 1 A 5 140 The space inside an object The area of the outside of a 3D object How much an object can contain. base x height will find it The space of a two The space of one dementional figure side of a 3 dementional figure (Length)(Width)= area 280 323 M 3 The space inside a 3 dementional figure 5 ? 55. how high it is 140 140 140 The inside of a The inside of the square and rectangle cylinder Inside Idk 14 96.3 M 1* 4 280 multiply Space inside an object Amount of space inside lwh The inside of a square or whatever the outside amount of space around lw I think LxW The area of a 3D object ? 403. hold inside it [plugged in] .6* ? 3 2* 33 32 34 35 36 37 38 140 140 The measure of the the area of a surface shape on the outside.92 32 140 140 140 1 A 280 107.18 19 (Isabella) 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 (Yolanda) 30 31 32 140 140 The placement around the box The placement inside the box the weight of the box 110 78400 204 lxw the number of lxh boxes inside a shape The space inside a shape ? 140 LxW [area formula for circle] 2 The capacity it can hold inside Idk.

and outside covering the length of shape shape The space around The depth.33 98 323 A 5* 2 4 2*l*H when you this is V=l*H [fig of figure out the top so cylinder] like [fig of cyl] The area of the ? base? The measurement of The inside outside [figure] measurement [figure] the surface area is also inside the circle but at the circle Area around an object.20.3 something to do with base and height 45. and height 13 280 96.28? inside an object 408* M 4 50 51 52 140 140 140 How many the measurement of Idk inches/feet/whatever the top of the shape is in a shape The area is the inside The outside of the of the object object [circle example] The mass of the object [cube example] F 280 280 5491 [correct] 4 5 .33* M 3 Area is everything 49 16.3 1830. width. so is it the same as premeter F 6 48 30-45 96.3 F A 6 5 4 The total amount of 42 43 44 45 46 47 140 cubes matter something takes up the total area on the The space within a face of the shape shape that can be filled 280 289 M 3 140 140 140 space inside something Is L*H it when you figure out the whole thing The inside of shape The measurement of the flat inside? [figure] The area is inside the circle [with formula] Perimeter of 3D object Space in cylinder 93x35 1830. weight.39 40 (Nadia) 41 140 The area inside the shape The space inside The area on the height.

5. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

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5.2 Case study: Travis
Travis is a tenth grade student in my afternoon section of Geometry. While often classified as a “troublemaker” with low grades, he clearly has a competitive streak and strong memory. His personal goal for the Geometry class is to take and pass the Regents exam with a score of 85 or above (i.e. the highest bracket). He can be sloppy when working on mathematics problems, but is often able to provide more precision when prompted. From Travis’s pre-assessment, it is clear that he has some prior knowledge of area, surface area, and volume, but that they are somewhat muddled. For his definition of area, he provides “the amount inside a figure,” for surface area, “the distance around a figure,” and for volume, “the mass of a figure.” When calculating the volume of both prisms on the pre-assessment, he finds all three dimensions and squares their product, thus for the rectangular prism giving the square of the correct answer and for the triangular prism giving the square of twice the correct answer. Also notable is that when asked for the surface area of a rectangular prism he provides the volume. When calculating the volume of a pyramid on the pre-assessment, he uses one dimension of the base rather than the area of the base when applying the formula for volume. All of this data suggests that his understanding of the three-dimensional nature of volume is shaky in a computational context. In contrast to this, his answer on Question 9 is simple, clear, and seemingly correct (see Figure 5.2.1). My interview with Travis took place on the fourth day of the unit following the preassessment, at which point we had explored the surface area and volume of rectangular prisms, triangular prisms, and cylinders. By this point, he seemed to have more articulate descriptions of surface area and volume. For example, he describes “surface area” as “all the areas of faces added up of a 3D shape,” an understanding emphasized in class when studying prisms (but rephrased in his own words).

5. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

22

Figure 5.2.1. Travis’s response to Question 9 on the pre-assessment.

Near the beginning of the interview, I present Travis with two rectangular prisms of equal volume and different dimensions (a red 2 cm by 5 cm by 12 cm prism and a green 3 cm by 5 cm by 8 cm prism). It is here that he still demonstrates some confusion on the interaction between different measures of three dimensional shapes. For example, he (like most of the interviewees) selects the green prism. When asked why he chose the green prism, he replies “because the height is bigger than this [red] one. . . oh no, but the width is the same. . . I think the height makes the difference.” When asked why the height made the difference, he replies that multiplying by the height is the last step to find volume. It seems then that part of his confusion stems from his procedural understanding of how to find volume of a rectangular prism. However, he gives a correct process for comparing the volume numerically and seems satisfied by his process for comparing the volume of the two prisms. When asked two “which would you compute” questions, it becomes clearer that Travis’s understanding of volume is heavily dependent on the context of the problem. For example, he correctly claims that he would want to find the volume of a rectangular prism in order to answer the question “How much air is in this room?” For this simpler question, the language allows him to answer “because. . . it’s inside of the room, and volume is inside.” However, when asked about how to find the amount of stone to build one of the Great

5. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

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Pyramids of Giza (of which I show him a picture), he quickly chooses surface area. His reason: “It’s a structure you build from the outside not inside. . . you build a pyramid from the outside so I say surface area.” His confusion on the problem has nothing to do with his abstract notions of volume or surface area; rather he seems to have some difficulty recognizing which is appropriate to compute in situations that are more ambiguous. Again his prior understandings outweigh clues in the problem when presented with the concrete slab problem. Asked to find the cost of a concrete building foundation, he claims that “this is surface area, because we’re looking for the foundation.” He correctly computes the surface area of the shape, even remembering unprompted to include ft2 as the appropriate units. Especially in light of the fact that the phrase “cubic foot” is in the problem twice, I wonder what has caused Travis to be so confident that finding surface area is appropriate, and so I ask him. He replies that the foundation of a building is a like a base, which makes him think of surface area. Again, his ability to parse a problem is inhibited by some aspect of a procedure, this time the vocabulary used consistently when finding volume and surface area. While I did not get a chance to ask him, this exchange also makes me wonder what his understandings are of units such as ft2 and ft3 and how they relate to “square feet” and “cubic feet.” When asked about sizes of his favorite drink, he again shows that his understanding of volume (and especially how scaling affects it) is heavily context-dependent. He quickly answers “twice as wide” when asked whether he would rather double the height or the width of his favorite drink. However, he is unable to elaborate on his explanation until he looks back to the red and green prisms. He asks the clarifying question “twice as wide, what happens to the width?” and I motion with my hands. At this point, he is able to articulate; “Oh the length gonna get bigger too, if you do it the wide way, it’s going to be the width and the length.”

5. like I imagine a . She seems to be one of the few students who never confuses volume and mass. In our interview (which took place after we started looking at cylinders). At the time of our interview. width. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 24 This response convinces me that Travis’s understanding of the different measures of a shape (dimensions. . answering on the pre-assessment that neither quantity is immediately related to answering the question “How heavy is a box of books?” On the pre-assessment. surface area. After his interview. she gives twice the correct answer for the volume of a triangular prism (no students answered the question correctly) and gives “the depth. he is often able to draw analogies or break down a problem into simpler cases in a way that suggests he has a reasonable conceptual understanding of volume supported by healthy mathematical habits of mind. like approximately a dozen other students. both computational and conceptual. Her description of volume is not only correct but far from any notion discussed in class: “how much can fit into something. they are not flexible or abstract enough to guide him through a problem with “mixed context clues” like the concrete problem. and height” as a definition of volume. She is articulate and often able to reflect on her own understandings and correct her own mistakes. I used more time in further interviews trying to get at what specific words in problems led to students’ decisions. she had the highest grade of all the students in all sections. .3 Case study: Nadia Nadia is another strong student and like Travis is in the 85+ Regents group. and volume) are clearest when working with rectangular prisms and realistic questions like “How much air is in the room?” While he is shakier dealing with other shapes. The questions I asked him gave him more trouble the more parsing was necessary. her ability to find the volume of objects still seems rooted in rectangular prisms. our interview suggested that while his abstract notions of surface area and volume are relatively strong. 5. it seems she has taken care to refine her ideas. Overall.

length. volume. [Draws the pyramid and prism separately and shows me. . but rather the “real-world” context of the problem itself. When asked why she did this. that won’t break the cover. it’s practically inside it! When asked how she would solve the concrete foundation problem.” When asked about surface area. . It’s one base.’ volume is ‘in’ and surface area is ‘around. Also like Travis. so that means. instead confidently stating “you would find their volume and compare. . she gives an interesting explanation: When I think of buildings. .”’ Like Travis. . . she is good at looking for key words in the problem given and says that when she sees one of those two words. wait. and their distinction is not what is throwing her off. Nadia starts by drawing a rectangular prism. width. . she answers that one would find surface area to calculate the amount of stone necessary to build a pyramid. when I think of cubic foot I think of volume. . ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 25 bowl. . . . so I’d find the area of the bottom base. height. she gives a precise explanation: “Volume. because I live in New York. When asked which rectangular prism has a greater volume. she usually doesn’t think any harder about which to compute. and gives a similar answer. This is further confirmed by the ease with which she described the process for finding the volume and surface area of a complex solid (a square pyramid on top of a rectangular prism). you probably just find the volume of that. . because it’s how much is in a room. . . . .5. showing similarly that her abstract understanding of surface area. the foundation. I wouldn’t add it twice. and the cover of the bowl. oh yeah. she gives the example of the Earth’s crust. you wouldn’t add it all.] I’d break it up into different shapes. my main words are ‘in’ or ‘around. . . wait! Cubic foot.” When asked about finding the amount of air in the classroom. she refuses even to pick one. you’d add them together. flat tops!. probably for the bottom base. DP: What about finding the surface area of that shape? How would you do that? Nadia: I’d break it up again? But that base is shared.] It’s for one of the bases. . that’s underneath it right? [DP: Yes. wait. and how much will fit into the bowl. I wouldn’t necessarily add that base twice. DP: How would you find the volume of this weird shape? Nadia: Cut it up into shapes. I think of them as tall rectangles.

While able to isolate context clues. However. Figure 5. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 26 Like Travis. it seems that she also searches for mathematical clues which cause her to revise her first ideas.5.” . she absorbs much of the context of the problem when figuring out where to start. Her notion of volume is strong enough that she tentatively makes statements in our interview like “sometimes I think about a pyramid and cone as the same. It is this response that leads me to believe her conceptual understanding of volume is quite deep in that she can weather misleading words and information in such problems. Nadia’s work on the last question in our interview. she does not lean on them to the exclusion of her abstract notion of volume.3. maybe I shouldn’t.1.

This suggests that while other students answered this question correctly and were able to compute the volume of a cylinder when called such. she says that it is because they probably have different formulas. much of Nadia’s mathematical strength is in knowing when to switch in and out of the context of a problem. She gives no definition of surface area or volume . but that she has difficulty with computation. yet when asked why she is concerned about conflating the two. 5. at which point we had explored prisms. She is part of the 75+ Regents group and our interview was the first conducted for this project. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 27 Without having formally been taught about these shapes. On the pre-assessment. It seems that even she still sees volume formulas as less related than they are. but does not rely on it so heavily as to let context clues mislead her. getting “32 inch cubes. and has voiced her frustration to me over her “gaps. instead trying to find some sort of three-dimensional version of perimeter.” However.5. Our interview was conducted approximately four days into the unit.1).” suggesting that she is confused about the three-dimensional nature of volume. she attempts to calculate the volume of a rectangular prism by adding two copies of each dimension. She is the only student interviewed who quickly switches over into the language of cylinders and volume unprompted. from previous units it was already clear to me that she is strong when it comes to reading and parsing geometry problems.3. She is often able to attain hints from the context of a problem.4 Case study: Yolanda Yolanda is absent from class more often than Travis and Nadia. She is also the only student interviewed to prove to me that doubling the width of a cylinder increases the volume more than doubling the height. she recognizes that pyramids and cones are related in that their volumes are found in similar ways. and even recognizes that she need not compute the volume of the “original” cylinder (see Figure 5.

or neither to find out how much air is in this room? Yolanda: Volume. you have an object and you put something else in it. she refers back to a (correct) formula from memory. cubes. it seems that she might not have a strong concept of what that formula is helping her to compare. She describes volume as “what could fit into an object. .” This is one of the notions of volume that had been discussed in class. it seems that Yolanda has not abstracted this into a more universal concept of volume. a question with so few correct answers it is not even included in Table 1 above. . surface area. her description of volume is a bit more fleshed out. with the base and the height. you know how you measure it in like. but a superficial component of that notion (the size of a single cube) has led to a misconception.” When asked to compare their surface area. cubic and stuff? So I think about it in cubes. so you get the . stating that she would calculate and compare. However.5. you could fit a lot of tiny little ones and its going to be more than this [green] one. However. DP: How would you do that? Yolanda: Go by the formula. Her notion of volume is related to that of “volume (packing)” described in [3]. her struggles to calculate volume do not seem to stem from any lack of spatial ability. it could be bigger cubes. it has to be a certain size. . Her reliance on particular formulas for particular shapes to inform her idea of volume shows up again when discussing how to calculate the amount of air in the classroom: DP: Would you rather calculate volume. . for when asked to compare the volume of the green and red rectangular prisms. she says “this one is wider. While the cubes notion seems to convey a solid idea of volume. with her discussion of smaller cubes and larger cubes in mind. if still shaky. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 28 on the pre-assessment. . and the volume is what’s inside the thing. During our interview. . but then again this one could be like tiny ones. DP: Why do you say volume? Yolanda:The air is in the room. she is one of only four students who seems to correctly identify both nets on question 5 of the pre-assessment.

3 1 DP: Let’s look at the formula. perhaps without ever having a clear concept of volume. why do you think we need the 3 . . no.no. When we look at the formula for the volume of a pyramid.5. it’s a square. Indeed in this case her analogy is especially apt in light of the fact that the cofficients in the formulas for area of a triangle and volume of a pyramid can be viewed as the coefficients that arise when taking the antiderivate of a linear and quadratic function. respectively. and height! 29 Even though her first method would have worked. so I’m guessing for that it’s a third. you need to calculate what’s inside. This is another piece of evidence that Yolanda relies heavily on a combination of her knowledge of formulas and her ability to reason out a problem through pattern-matching and analogy. the width. where by “unified. that would be the base. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS bottom. . Even though her definition of volume is shaky. . in fact. we have only used that method in class to find the volume of non-rectangular prisms. and the height. you know how for a triangle it’s half. the base and the height? Yolanda: The height is included in the thing. This suggests that perhaps that she does not always have a unified concept of volume when solving problems.” I mean an idea that the same type of answer is desired regardless of the shape at hand. she makes a case for needing to know both volume (to find the total amount of stone) and surface area (to find the stone on the outside). she quickly provides a reasonable rationale for the coefficient 1 . Yolanda is the only student interviewed to claim confidently that one needs to find the volume of a pyramid to find the amount of stone required to build it. she is skilled at reasoning by analogy. rectangle. . right? No. . no. and thus it seems that Yolanda thinks that a formula that works for all prisms only works for non-rectangular ones. . like. so the length. . the base. and the third because its not a whole. which was provided in the interview on a formula sheet but not yet discussed in class.

on the pre-assessment. From Ryan’s pre-assessment (and interview). all the while still struggling to develop an abstract notion of volume. For example. he gives an answer of “34 boxes” to a question asking how many 1 inch cubes would fit inside a box measuring 5 inches by 7 inches by 4 inches. First. the only interpretation of his answer I can make is that perhaps he found twice the sum of each dimension and made some minor calculation error.5. suggesting that she is heavily reliant on non-mathematical context clues. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 30 This shows up in particular when she struggles with the concrete foundation problem. It also seems that he has difficulty with visualizing (or . it seems that he has conflated the notions of mass and volume and that he has difficulty translating between the idea of volume and questions such as asking how many unit cubes would fit in a given rectangular prism. but his performance on tests in the class ranges from failing grades to one of the highest grades across all the sections. having passed the Algebra Regents exam in middle school. she asks what a slab is (note: the word slab is used in the original Regents exam problem and there is no accompanying figure). 5. Second. From our interview it seems that Yolanda uses the context of problems and her strong memory of vocabulary and formulas to help her solve problems. Since I forgot to ask him about this question during our interview. He is a member of the 85+ Regents group.5 Case study: Ryan Ryan is one of the few ninth graders in my Geometry classes. He is a very quiet student but is willing to participate in class discussion when directly asked to do so.” first using a method for finding the volume of a triangular prism before correcting herself. she begins by saying “you go by the formula. especially in light of the fact that she answers in the negative when I ask if the phrase “cubic foot” helps her to solve the problem.

he claims that. Like most of the interviewees. hemisphere. the green has a greater volume. . In our interview. This shows up again when I ask him how to find the volume of a shape I’ve drawn.” but follows up quickly with “you would find the volume. Like many of the others. while volume is a property of the material of which an object is made. cylinders. Ryan replies “volume. He asks first “is that a cone. .e. width. When asked how to find the amount of air in the room. he articulates his definition of volume.” He seems at ease describing the method for finding volume as he refers to the physical objects in front of us. like how much the mass is. . which seems to be a mix of correct and incorrect ideas: “volume. any type of object.5. . a box. because the air is in the room. showing me the length. he gives “triangle” as the shape formed by a net which actually folds into a pyramid. a desk. . could be a chair. of the red and green prism. a cylinder with a cone attached at one end and a hemisphere at the other. so you would do length times width times height for both and see what your answer is and compare. it seems that the notion of “how big” is more closely tied to surface area. you’re not trying to find like how big the room is. his evidence is that “the height is taller. again with visualization problems] first and then the cone type and then the cylinder and add them” to find the total volume. with ice cream on top of it?” before proceeding to answer that one would “find the volume of the half circle [i. . which makes me wonder if there is a connection between his conceptual understandings and the fact that he seems to (unusually for the class) have a harder time with abstract computational volume problems than problems in context. could be a paper. the inside of an object. . is basically. His notions of surface area and volume are rooted in concrete examples. and height. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 31 at least describing) three-dimensional shapes. like. and so on unless prompted by the context of a problem.” To him.” Notably he gives concrete examples as opposed to many of the other interviewees who stick to prisms. on the pre-assessment.

5. . he states that he has a hard time seeing and drawing three-dimensional shapes. confusing the terminology is not just a vocabulary-based slip-up. and seems less likely in these situations to confuse surface area. It seems then to me that Ryan’s difficulties in solving surface area and volume problems come from his difficulty visualizing abstract three-dimensional objects. but I don’t know how to draw it like that.g. doubling each in turn.” and struggles to do so for a short while. in our interview. and mass. explaining that the concrete is the foundation of a building. he tried to show to me that both volumes were equivalent by starting with values for the area of the base and the height of a cylinder.5. Ryan often uses names of polygons and other two-dimensional shapes when referring to three-dimensional shapes that resemble them (e. and substituting into the volume formula (see Figure 5. he says “you start by drawing a rectangle. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 32 Like many of my geometry students.1). On the “favorite drink” question. He was the only student I interviewed who showed me work on paper during our interview and never drew a shape. His reliance on concrete objects when giving examples and solving problems further suggest that his abstract and concrete understanding of volume and surface area are both somewhat correct but relatively disconnected. of course it would be 3D. thus shying away from visualizations. However. at least for him. “triangle” for pyramid). volume. he has a hard time taking a problem in context and abstracting it. not unlike when he answers “surface area” for the Pyramid of Giza question. and like several other interviewees concludes that surface area is necessary. which suggests that. It seems then that Ryan’s problem solving strategies involving volume and surface area avoid visualization perhaps because he finds it difficult. He is quick to solve problems when physical shapes (such as the red and green prisms) are in front of him. When looking at the concrete problem. perhaps associating the foundation with a face of a three-dimensional object. In this problem he leans on the context of the problem. While he is confident when working with manipulatives.

she can be a hard worker. instead taking the class only for mathematics credit. While “low-skilled” in some ways. It seems from her pre-assessment that. she seems to have a misconception about area (see Figure 5. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 33 Figure 5. she confuses volume with another quality of threedimensional objects.1). but in each case finds the area of the base by adding the dimensions given (see Figure 5. she correctly multiplies her answer for the area of the base by the height (and by 1 3 for the pyramid). in addition to associating these quantities with rectangular prisms (“the box”). and volume. she has two misconceptions about area.” Second.6 Case study: Isabella Isabella was one of two students I interviewed not signed up to take the Regents exam. surface area. willing to re-examine her own ideas and check her work. 5. and often takes the time and effort to clear up her own misunderstandings and ask for help. .6. The first is that. her definition is “the weight of the box. like Ryan.5. Ryan’s work on the last question in our interview. This shows up in two questions on the pre-assessment.1.6.2). when finding the volumes of a triangular prism and pyramid.5.

6. .6.2. Figure 5. and volume. Isabella’s pre-assessment definitions of area.5. surface area.1. Isabella’s solution to Problem 8 on the pre-assessment. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 34 Figure 5.

and the green/red prisms question is one for which she does. I would rather figure out how much volume is in it. . or neither in order to find out how much air is in this room? Isabella: For the room. . but Isabella’s responses showed me how a student. .” However. it would take a lot to figure that out. the width. the more volume that it had. but instead takes my question as asked and provides which quantity she would prefer to calculate. Previously. I thought it was like something like.) As a student. and the height of the pyramid. when I first thought about volume. because you could easily measure the surface area of the pyramid. because finding the length. how much the object weighs or how much it holds. . she claims that she often has to rely on formulas. . I thought that part of the wording of the question was unimportant. For example.” Isabella seems to lack confidence in her own computational skills and ability.” (The project to which she refers included a discussion of surface area to volume ratio. saying “I think you have to do length times width times height to figure out the volume. Isabella does not seem to consider which quantity would be more appropriate. surface area. For each of these questions. but after we learned about what volume is or whatever. since when asked about the green and red prisms. or neither to find out how much stone to build this (very famous) pyramid? Isabella: Surface area than the volume. might perceive what I am looking for when . how big the shape is. DP [later]: Would you rather figure out volume. surface area. because I figure volume is easier because you just have to figure out the length width and the height of the room and you could figure out all those measurements with a ruler and then figure out the volume. we learned that the smaller the object is. you could do the same equation on both. .5. she answers “green. her working knowledge of volume still seems shaky. especially one not confident in their problem-solving ability. she interprets my questions in the following way: DP:Would you rather figure out volume. the major observation being that smaller boxes usually had a higher ratio. because when we did the project in class. I learned that it’s about what can fit inside. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 35 Isabella is the only interviewee who states explicitly that her concept of volume has changed over the course of the unit: “When I think about volume.

it makes me think that I could use volume to answer this question. Furthermore. I don’t know. her responses made me wonder later what was her concept of where a “right answer” comes from in mathematics. She uses her critical thinking skills to search for patterns. some of her work is internally consistent. Similarly. she is able to “get by” solving many problems by pattern matching and using the fact that most of the problems given her provide precisely the amount and type of information necessary to solve the problem. . suggesting that one of the reasons my students have difficulty deciding whether to find surface area or volume is that problems involving either often provide the same numerical information.g. and thus she has a harder time picking what procedure to use. all good mathematical habits of mind. she has a hard time distinguishing between mathematical patterns and patterns found in high school math problems (e. height. . In short. the fact that it gives us the measurements. but once it comes up to the cost. . ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 36 asking such a question. . Isabella strikes me as representative of many of the sharp students in my classes who are struggling. only appropriate information is ever given). width. It seems that.5. Her responses when working with the concrete question supported this interpretation of how she solves problems. I don’t know. . draw analogies. yeah! DP: How do you know that finding volume would help you answer the question? Isabella: Because. .g. She does not seem to be as strong as Yolanda when it comes to memorizing formulas and the names of three-dimensional shapes. She does not seem to notice that the measurements could also be used to find surface area. . somewhat like Yolanda. . . but incorrect due to some older misunderstanding (e. . I could use the 15 feet by 15 feet by 2 as length. . as well as why she (and many other students) have a hard time figuring out whether to find volume or surface area: Isabella: I want to say volume because I feel like it’s more to work with than it is for surface area. . However. she explains the coefficient of 1 3 in the volume formula for a pyramid by analogy to the relationship between a rectangle and a triangle. and then I would try to divide it by two or multiply by two to get a possible answer. . and identify important information.

even reaching an understanding that allows her to circumvent her own computational difficulties. Martha’s solution to Problem 2 on the pre-assessment. but seems to give a more accurate definition for surface area. By the time of our interview (following prisms and cylinders). She is not signed up for the Regents exam and is classified as a special education student.1 and 5.7. My interview with Isabella left me primarily with the question of how I can better harness the reflective ability of students like her to prevent and repair such misconceptions.2). asks questions.7. Her definition of volume is “how much .7. she seems to be more confident in her understanding of volume. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 37 her misconception of area). However. her grasp of surface area seems to be stronger than that of volume. 5. to find the volume of a prism on the pre-assessment. Unlike most of the students in my classes.5. and provides a mix of correct and incorrect answers during mini-lessons. she often participates actively in discussion in class. Figure 5. drawing an arrow pointing to the lateral area of the cylinder (see Figures 5.1. For example.7 Case study: Martha Martha is one of the students in my classes with the weakest skills. she adds the dimensions.

which one holds more. or something like that” and surface area is “the whole perimeter of a shape. DP:. she decides on surface area. For example. .7. like a box.7. Like Ryan.3). She returns to the concept of volume (filling) mentioned in [3] when asked how she would find the volume of a cylinder attached to a cone. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 38 Figure 5. she selects the green prism as having more volume. we could put. beans or something. her answer to Problem 9 on the pre-assessment makes much more sense (see Figure 5. we could put it here [green] and the same amount here [red] and see if like. like all the faces.5.” Like all interviewees. In light of her method for finding volume. . or like in a cylinder. how large is the room in order to see how much air you’re gonna need. how much it could fit in the green one. but is unique among the interviewees in her method for verifying her answer: DP: Why the green prism? Martha: It may be a little bit small. . she seems to see volume as a quantity less intrinsic to an object than surface area. when asked about the amount of air in the room. how would that tell us if we were right? Martha: We could just put the same amount.” Although she and Ryan have different answers. their answers to this question reveal how they might associate surface area more closely with an object than volume. but it has much more space than the red one.2. “because youre gonna need how big. something can fit inside. Martha’s definition of surface area. DP: Is there a way you could prove to me that the green prism has a larger volume than the red one? Martha: We could put stuff inside the green one and put stuff inside the red box. say.

. Like many of the other interviewees. . and twice as tall. the surface area and the volume? DP: Why would you have to figure out both? Martha: Because first the surface area. the object itself. the volume of an object is related to. Martha definitely has the hardest time with the last three problems we look at in our interview. and her answers suggest her notions of surface area as the “size” of a shape and volume as the “inside” of a hollow shape are at the heart of her misconceptions. and the volume because of how many things could fit inside. because twice is wide is like. on favorite drink question] Why would you choose twice as wide? Martha: Wide is means its more.5. . Martha’s answer to Question 9 on the pre-assessment. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS 39 Figure 5. but physically disjoint from. it’s tall but it has the same amount. because you’ve gotta see the amount of space you’re gonna take. to her. Martha: [in reference to the concrete problem] Wouldn’t you have to figure out both. her conceptual understanding was shaky and sometimes overwritten by mathematically unimportant aspects of the contexts of the problems. Martha’s notion of volume seems tied to whether or not a three-dimensional object is hollow. It seems to me that.3. DP: [later.7. it’s just in a bigger. it’s bigger and it has a lot of fruit punch insdie. . tall is just like a little bit. .

Many of the students interviewed in this project had a concept of volume rooted in their strongest areas. Many students’ concepts of volume also led me to believe that some of their misconceptions were actually rooted in their misunderstanding of length and area. leading me to wonder how I would remediate such misunderstanding while simultaneously moving forward with new material. Ryan defined volume in terms of concrete objects (since he has difficulty drawing and visualizing abstract threedimensional shapes) and Martha’s notion of volume is close to that of volume (filling) described in [3].6 Reflection and Implications First. leading me to wonder what other factors were in play and how their concept of volume did or did not help them through a problem. For example. I came to understood over the course of this project that each mathematical question I ask of a student is often much more than just a mathematical question to . The students who had the most accurate definitions and concepts of volume did not always solve the most problems in our interviews. perhaps to account for her relatively low computational and spatial skills. this project has led me to reflect on the way that my students have developed a conceptual understanding of volume. Second.

I am concerned that too many math problems my students encounter are confusing instead of hard. Those who were most comfortable thinking about volume abstractly and articulating their ideas about volume were often most able to solve the problems presented in our interviews and provided stronger justifications for their answers. even many of my strongest students are not. This further implies that an analogy used in class may not be received by students in the same spirit in which it was given. . and this has led me to conclude that a strong conceptual understanding of volume is not just nice to have. Yolanda was unable to answer the prism question completely since here cube-based idea of volume was flawed in that she considered the number of cubes in a shape without regard to their volume. This has led me to believe that this ability is a separate mathematical habit of mind that must be focused on and taught explicitly in mathematics classrooms.6. Especially given that the concrete problem was a real Regents exam problem with only the numbers changed. several students interviewed answered “surface area” to the concrete problem and in most cases this answer stemmed from confusion over what the foundation of a building was. The students with these types of understandings seemed more likely to be misled by the context of the problems we looked at. REFLECTION AND IMPLICATIONS 41 them. In constrast. For example. and that we as teachers must always be careful to (1) identify where analogies break down and (2) provide as many of them as possible in order to provide as many different entry points to understanding difficult abstract concepts. My students’ conceptions of volume and their interpretation and parsing of problems interacted in the following way. since so often I found that the question I intended to ask was not the question my students heard. but crucial for solving problems that go beyond basic formulas and computation. While I or some other mathematically well-trained person is skilled at accurately abstracting away the context of a problem precisely when necessary. but their concept of volume is still rooted in some artificial aspect of the analogy they use. For example. many of my students have a moderate grasp of volume.

If I am going to use manipulatives. I assumed that some time playing with real rectangular prisms made out of cardstock would make it easy to move on to more standard forms of assessment on prisms.6. Furthermore. but also to sort out and throw away misleading or mathematically superficial components of problems. especially for students with a weaker conceptual notion of volume to begin with. As I tried to include hands-on activities in my unit and manipulatives-based questions in my interviews. but more separable than they actually are. It is this sort of confidence in problem solving that I hope to build in my own students. I should not just use them because they temporarily make solving particular . Instead. then I must include in my plans for how they are used how my students will grow out of using them as well. With her strong. leaving manipulatives behind was not just difficult. and unified notion of volume. By watching a student like Travis break down a problem in front of him into simpler problems. While it may seem obvious that these are related. she was able not only to extract useful clues from the context of problems. Before this project. I found that. REFLECTION AND IMPLICATIONS 42 The benefits of this deeper level of understanding show up in the problem-solving habits of students like Nadia (and Travis to a certain extent). I came closer to understanding that this sort of leap was only possible due to a robust notion of volume. but so difficult that it made me question how many of my students had actually deepened their knowledge of volume and surface area. flexible. They may have been better at computational volume problems. but how much did their ability to memorize formulas mask a continued lack of understanding that working with manipulatives was supposed to clear up? This has left me with one major resolution for my future classroom. I was surprised by what understandings my students did or did not carry over with them to more abstract problems or problems without accompanying physical objects. I feel that I saw knowledge of mathematical concepts and problem solving habits as critical. I feel that it is too easy for me and others teaching mathematics to keep mathematical habits and mathematical concepts too far apart from each other even when focusing on both.

This is crucial since every interviewee (even Nadia) surprised me at least once not just with a misconception. With dozens of students turning in several assignments a week. my interviews with my students provided me with much more insight into their thought processes than their classwork or my shorter interactions with them in class. REFLECTION AND IMPLICATIONS 43 problems easier. I am sure that many of my efforts at self-improvement in my teaching will be towards this goal. One aspect of doing this would be to hold myself back more from correcting students as they solve problems. I would like somehow to build space for these sorts of low-stakes extended mathematical conversations. making me wish that such a conversation was a requisite part of the class for each student. In terms of the data collection of this project. as intended. First.6. Students are absent. it is difficult to collect meaningful data. especially with my struggling students. Second. but with the cause of that misconception. I encountered several difficulties that have certain implications for my first year of teaching. while I don’t think I’m quite yet ready to implement one-on-one conferences in my classroom. they have days where they answer every question correctly but refuse to show their work. they have bad days. instead. This has made me wonder how to create this atmosphere in my future classroom. Furthermore. . Many of them were much more articulate and deliberate than in class. it is hard to sort out what reveals what about my students’ thinking processes (as opposed to their ability to provide answers). Travis thought the Great Pyramids at Giza were hollow and Yolanda thought that unit cubes could have different sizes. something which I sometimes struggled to do during interviews. it is all the more important that I focus on what deeper notions I want my students to gain. they have crazy days. For example. It seems then that one of the greatest difficulties I or any math teacher faces is how to find these misconceptions and help students recognize and correct them.

Ginsburg. 1956. 265-272.G. Inhelder. Battista. Science Education 71 (1987). Curry and L. New York State Education Department. Portsmouth. Heinemann. PME Conference (2006). 61-70. [5] D. Basic Books. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 25 (1994). NH.Bibliography [1] M. Different Approaches for Teaching Volume and Students’ Visualization Ability.T. The Challenge of Formative Assessment in Mathematics Education: Children’s Minds.W. Conceptual Understanding of Spatial Measurement. [7] M. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 27 (1996).. al. Clements. The Power of Questions: A Guide to Teacher and Student Research. Hewson. The Child’s Conception of Space. 2011. Battista and D. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 20 (1983). 1960. Outhred.G. 591-597. Human Development 52 (2009). Isiksal et. Gabel and L. Piaget et. [2] M. [11] J. and P. The Child’s Conception of Geometry. New York. [6] Herbert P. . [4] Beverly Falk and Megan Blumenreich. Piaget and B. Routledge and Kegan Paul. Students’ Understanding of Three-Dimensional Rectangular Arrays of Cubes. London. A Study on Investigating 8th Grade Students’ Reasoning Skills on Measurement: The Case of Cylinder. al. Teachers’ Minds. 86-94. [9] The New York State School Report Card Accountability and Overview Report 20102011: Bronx Academy of Letters..L. 2005. [10] J. Enochs. [3] M. 258-292. 109-128. On Greeno’s Environmental/Model View of Conceptual Domains: A Spatial/Geometric Perspective. Education and Science 35 (2010).H. [8] M.T. 731-743. Effect of Instruction Using Students’ Prior Knowledge and Conceptual Change Strategies on Science Learning.

they are: 1. A copy of the questions that were shown to students on paper during interviews.Appendix Following is a selection of materials used in this project. . The lesson plan and task from the day during which students investigated cylinders. The lesson plan and task from the day during which students investigated rectangular prisms. A copy of the pre-assessment given on May 9. 3. 5. An outline of clinical interview questions asked of students. 4. 6. In order. A copy of the pertinent problems on the Regents version of the Learning Target Assessment of May 16. 2.

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such as triangular prism with triangular pyramid on top]. For each question: how did you decide what formula to use? What does each piece of the formula tell you? d. How did you decide to do that? ii. How much will it cost to pour a 15 ft by 15 ft by 2 ft slab for the foundation of a building if concrete costs $2. What would you do first? ii.00 a cubic foot? b. What are your definitions of volume and surface area? 2. How did you know that you needed to find volume/surface area? iii. For each problem: i. Using formulas: If I wanted to find [x].Clinical Interview Outline: Students’ Conceptions of Volume and Surface Area 1. How could you verify that your method worked? c. How could you check that your strategy for shrinking the prism gives you the correct answer? ii. Problem 1: Concrete is purchased by the cubic foot. How much air is in this room? b. How much stone to build this pyramid [of Giza]? c. Problem 2: c. Are there any other ways you could halve the volume of this prism? b. How would the volume change if I made this prism three times as tall (or stacked three copies of this prism on top of one another)? i. would you rather get a can that is twice as tall or twice as wide? d. How would you verify your answer? iii. How would you convince a friend you were correct? 3. [various complex solids. How would I find the volume of this shape? Could you write a formula for how to find the surface area? What does each piece of your formula mean? 4. Problem 3: If you had a bottle of your favorite drink. a. How did you decide which had greater volume? ii. How do you know your answer “makes sense?” . [Two prisms with equal volume] Which of these two prisms has a greater volume? i. Regents-type problems: Show me how you would go about solving these three problems. What could I do to this prism to make its volume half that of the original volume? i. what formula would I use / how would I find it? a. [Present rectangular prism] How many 1cm cubes would fit inside this prism? What information would you need? a.

How would I find the volume of this shape? [shape drawn during interview.] Problem 1: Concrete is purchased by the cubic foot. How much air is in this room? 2.00 a cubic foot? Problem 2: Problem 3: If you had a bottle of your favorite drink. differed from student to student. How much will it cost to pour a 15 ft by 15 ft by 2 ft slab for the foundation of a building if concrete costs $2. The only differences are that their copies contained more page breaks and they were provided with the standard Regents Geometry Examination formula sheet.[The following is a copy of the problems discussed in the interview as shown to students. would you rather get a can that is twice as tall or twice as wide? .-DP] What is your definition of volume? What is your definition of surface area? 1. How much stone to build this pyramid? 3.

move towards area X altitude Whiteboard Settle on definition of prism. Solve several straightforward example problems as a class.G. Investigation Students will work through task involving (1) finding volumes. NYS Standards: G.12: Know and apply that the volume of a prism is the product of the area of the base and the altitude. Frayer model exit ticket on definition of prism. as well as give examples and non-examples. Assessment Two rectangular prism problems from pre-assessment Do Now: assess for understanding of definition Check specifically for understanding of rectangular and triangular prism volume during investigation. Model how to draw and label prisms.11: Know and apply that two prisms have equal volumes if their bases have equal areas and their altitudes are equal. G. as well as important characteristics. 25 (43) min Circulate. Section Do Now Description Students will work on two simple volume problems similar to those on pre-assessment Go over two Do Now problems Time Reminders 5 (5) Circulate and CFU min Materials/media Do now slips Debrief Do Now Minilesson/Notes 3(8) min 10 (18) min Focus on concept of volume.10: Know and apply that lateral edges of a prism are congruent and parallel. SWBAT find the volume of rectangular (and other simple) prisms. Investigation sheets. G.G.G.Unit: Surface Area and Volume Lesson: Introduction to volume and prisms Essential Questions: What is volume? How do we find it? Where do our formulas for volume “come from?” Objective: By the end of the lesson. ask students questions about their own thinking FIRST. (2) Overhead and transparencies. Discuss how to make net for rectangular prism. SWBAT define a prism and describe its key characteristics. paper and scissors to make .

keep eye out for people to interview Push for drawn and “real-world” examples of both. ask prompting questions THIRD. models Exit slips . Go over problems and student-created investigation prisms Frayer model exit ticket on definition of prism. two Regents-type problems ask them to discuss with tablemates SECOND.Debrief problems Exit scale factor for prisms. clarify LAST 5 (48) 7 (55) Emphasis on strategy. Overhead. as well as illustrative nonexamples nets for rectangular prisms. and (3) finding missing quantities when two prisms are known to have equal volumes.

Surface area Prism 1 Volume SA/Vol Sketch Prism 2 Prism 3 . Calculate the surface area to volume ratio by dividing: ratio = surface area / volume. 6. Find the area of each face. How many cubic cm of water would be needed to fill your prism to a depth of 1cm? 5. INCLUDE UNITS! 7. 2012 NOTE: If you want a challenge. Use this information to find the surface area of your prism. Make a net for a rectangular prism out of the 1cm grid paper provided. Write down the surface area and volume of each of your group’s prisms in the table below. Sketch each of your groups three prisms in the boxes provided. Tape it together GRID SIDE OUT. Find the volume of your prism. replace the word “rectangular” with “right triangular.” 1. Write down each area on the appropriate face and here on your sheet. 2. 8. Cut out and fold your net to create a rectangular prism.Geometry Investigation PRISMS MADE OF NETS Name:_______________ May 10. 3. 4.

Find its surface area and volume. 12.9. ask for more data from other tables and add that to your comparison. Make an irregular shape at your table by attaching them along their faces. What do you observe about the prisms with high surface area to volume ratio versus those with low surface area to volume ratio? (If you want. (UNITS!) 13. Pick at least two (but preferably three) of the prisms at your table. . Describe or draw this shape. How do these compare to the surface area and volume of the original two (or more) prisms? Write one complete sentence for each of surface area and volume. 11.) 10.

Demonstrates understanding of the definition of surface area and volume. Correctly identifies contexts in which finding surface area and volume are appropriate. 2. 1. 2. Approaching Mastery 1. Demonstrates understanding of volume and the definition of a prism. To calculate how much paint is on a house. . you should calculate SURFACE AREA/ VOLUME (circle one). Mastery 1. To calculate how much air is in a room. Find the volume of the rectangular prism. Approaching Mastery 1. May attempt to use knowledge of the volume of a prism to solve for unknown information. Remote Mastery 1. Demonstrates some understanding of volume and prisms. its surface area. 2.) Object Surface Area Volume 4. you should calculate SURFACE AREA / VOLUME (circle one). 2.Version 1 Learning Target 20 I can define surface area and volume and recognize them in context. Remote Mastery 1. Find the volume of the triangular prism. May attempt to define surface area or volume. May correctly identify contexts in which finding surface area and volume are appropriate. 2. Uses knowledge of the volume of a prism to solve for unknown information. and its volume. (Think back to the table from yesterday. Mastery 1. Demonstrates some understanding of the definition of surface area and volume. Demonstrates understanding of volume and the definition of a prism. Give an example of a real-world object. 5. Learning Target 21 I can find the volume of basic prisms and use it to solve problems. What is surface area? _______________________________________________________________________________________ 2. 1. What is volume? ___________________________________________________________________________________________ 3.

Demonstrates understanding of surface area and the definition of a prism. Demonstrates some understanding of surface area and prisms. 2. May attempt to use knowledge of the surface area of a prism to solve for unknown information. 2. 1. 2. Approaching Mastery 1. . Find the surface area of the same rectangular prism as before. Uses knowledge of the surface area of a prism to solve for unknown information.Version 1 Learning Target 22 I can find the surface area of basic prisms and use it to solve problems. Remote Mastery 1. Find the surface area of the same triangular prism as before. Demonstrates understanding of surface area and the definition of a prism. Mastery 1.

Circulate to ensure note taking. Independent practice: do students solve (non-Regents) the first. (Regents) the first two. Check Materials/media Do now slips Debrief Do Now Go over Do Now. find the volume of cylinders given adequate information. narrate. find the lateral area of cylinders given adequate information. check also for units! (Sheet of harder problems for those who finish investigation early) Section Do Now Description Students will work on the Do Now. and solve simple problems involving the volume and lateral area of cylinders. NYS Standards: G. 12 Circulate.G. including: bases are congruent. can students remember what they know and apply it to the case of cylinders? Check for prism-cylinder comparisons on Do Nows.David Price May 17. Investigation: do students arrive at the formulas for lateral area and volume? Investigation: CFU of cm3 == mL connection. a triangular prism refresher and intro to cylinders Time Reminders 5 Circulate. volume equals the product of the area of the base and the altitude. CFU min of prism facts. lead into formula for volume of a cylinder Overhead. Look out for students with good cylinder-prism comparisons. Do Now slips Investigation ~7 minutes for students Investigation . Silfies Bronx Academy of Letters Unit: Surface area and volume Lesson: Volume and lateral area of cylinders Essential Question: How do we extend our knowledge of prisms to solve problems involving cylinders? Objective: By the end of the lesson. Assessment: Check understanding of prism knowledge in Do Now. lateral area of a right circular cylinder equals the product of an altitude and the circumference of the base. Challenge students who are done to find volume formula 7 Call on cold call plants! (12) CFU on formula. SWBAT define a cylinder. or (challenge) all three of the independent practice problems for each investigation? Show of hands during debrief. call on students with solid answers. Exit ticket: one problem of each type.14: Apply the properties of a cylinder. Check Min against prism knowledge. narrate. 2012 Spring supervisor: M. Debrief: ask students to repeat vocabulary and formulas discovered. Krembs Mentor teacher: K.

but + practice with lateral area. Go over formula discovered and IP. Recall earlier discoveries and prismcylinder comparison. debrief transparency. total surface area. (24) min. Ask students to repeat/rephrase. Show of hands on IP problems. CFU IP. investigation sheets. Same as before. Investigation Same as before. Circulate. Full debrief Exit ticket Go over lateral area and IP. Overhead.+ Practice Debrief to find the volume of their graduated cylinder/beaker and compare to the mL measurement marked. Various cylindrical groceries with lateral area labels. IP… Exit Slips . 9 (50) min 5 (55) min Hit lateral area vs. Rectangular nature of lateral area. Compare performance vs. Mention cm3 == mL. 5 (29) min 12 (41) min Overhead. sheets. narrate. various cylinders. special debrief transparency. 5 min for IP. for precision. Only measure height to mL mark! Circulate and check intentionally for understanding during IP. Students will work quietly and independently on one of each type of problem.

How does it compare to the mL mark at the top? __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ . Measure the height of your cylinder up to the highest marking. find the volume of your cylinder. Measure the diameter of your cylinder to the nearest TENTH of a centimeter. Height: ____________cm. we need to multiply the ___________ and the area of the ___________. 7. Based on the diameter you measured. Part II: Find the Volume 5. 3. Include units! Volume = ____________. 4. just like with prisms. What is the shape of the base of your cylinder? Shape: ___________. 6. Include units! Area= __________. 2. Remember. Using the formula from above. 2012 Your task is to find the volume of your cylinder. 1. Calculate the area of your face. What is the formula for the area of that shape? Area = ________. Part I: Examine the Base BUT FIRST: Record the highest mL marking on your beaker or cylinder here: _____ mL. Diameter: ____________cm. what is the radius of your cylinder? Radius: ____________cm.Geometry Cylinder Investigation Name: _______________ May 17.

2. It is in the shape of a __________________. Width of the label = ______________ cm. Complete the following equation: SA = _________cm2. Part III: Making Connections 10.What do you notice about the length and width of the label? __________________________________________________________________ 11. Part I: Examine the Base 1. What is the circumference of these faces? Circumference = __________ cm. bottom. Find the area of the bottom face. Part II: Find the Surface Area 4. 5. 7. Lateral Area =__________ cm2. Height: _________ cm. 9. Area = _________cm2. In this case. 3. Find the total surface area of your cylinder. and side. Area = __________ cm2. 8. The area of the side is called the lateral area. Find the area of the top face. Measure the height of your cylinder. Carefully take off the label. The surface area of a cylinder has three parts: top. Find the lateral area of your cylinder by finding the area of your label.The second part of this task is to find the Surface Area. Length of the label = _____________ cm. Lateral Area = (__________________ of the circle) x (_________ of the cylinder) . 6. the label represents the side.

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