Here is a fabulous way to connect a math concept with a STEM Challenge. It’s all about Volume!
If you have students that struggle with understanding volume – this is the challenge for you! Especially with my third graders, it is so hard to help them visualize the meaning of volume.
One thing I have tried is to tell them to think about placing a fence around the outer edge of the classroom. That would be perimeter. Think about putting carpet in the classroom. That would be the area. Now, fill the room with water like a swimming pool. That is volume.
This Popcorn Challenge will help understand that concept even better because it is hands-on!
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The Popcorn Book by Tomie De Paola
It is your option to use the book. I really only use one page of it due to time constraints. I share that one page as the premise of this challenge.
The book tells about an archeological team that finds preserved popcorn inside a cave. The students must find a way to make the perfect container to exactly fit the popcorn.
The teams have a sample of the popcorn and must make a container that is the perfect size for a large number of popcorn pieces. I give them a cup with ten pieces in it and watch as they trace those pieces to find the size their containers will need to be.
TIP: One large bag of microwaveable popcorn is probably all you will need. I pop it and pour it out onto my countertop at school. I then just rake five pieces at a time into a bowl until I reach the number used for this challenge. That bowl is hidden from students.
Almost always there will be a group that decides to make a cylinder-shaped container. The outside wall of these is fairly easy to make. It’s the bottom and the top that create a problem!
The second graders in this photo also made cylinders. The narrow one in the top photo was a great size, but the larger cylinder in the bottom photo was way too large.
TIP: I use masking tape or staplers for this project. With second graders I gave them a tape dispenser. With third graders, I usually give each table a stapler and also watch them carefully to make sure they know how to use it. (You’d be surprised how many do not know!)
Then there is the cube. For the cube to be the correct size it has to be really small. Trust me, all the ones in the photos below are about three times larger than needed. Remember, the popcorn has to fit exactly.
This seems like the least likely shape to work, but it sometimes is the best one.
There are always teams that try the envelope container! I think they are considering this shape because it resembles a backpack which would be a natural carrying container for the popcorn out of the cave in the book we read. It is a flat bag, which might resemble an envelope. The trouble with this envelope shape is that it is usually too flat.
The Unusual Shapes
After all the containers are finished I bring out the bowl of popcorn that I have counted for this challenge. Then we pour the popcorn into each container to see which ones are the exact size. Some teams will have containers that make this testing more difficult. The pink container in the photo below had a very narrow cylinder the led to a larger cylinder. To place the popcorn into the top I had to put one piece at a time. It took a long time to do this! In the end, this one was too small.
TIP: Even if I know the container is too small or too large or has a difficult opening for placing the popcorn – we test them all. The kids are so excited to see their containers tested!
We end this fabulous challenge by talking about the word volume and what it really means. This lesson is a well-learned one! I use it with third graders and even when they make it to the fifth grade they still remember their popcorn containers.
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