There are boxes and boxes of cardboard stacked in the back of the room as Model Middle School seventh-graders in math teacher Rachel Price’s class work away calculating the total surface area of the pieces that will form their tin man.
They use cylinders, prisms, spheres and cones to make up the feet, legs, body and hat of their creation — the head was in many cases a foam ball. But before they can combine these pieces to make the semblance of a tin man, they must find the surface area in square inches and then convert it to square feet. When they did this Thursday, they go to Price with their measurement for her to stretch the roll of tin foil out across the floor and cut off a sheet that they must then use to cover all of their pieces.
There is no going back once the sheet is cut and students carefully attempt to wrap each piece, making sure not to waste any of it.
The STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — project, which coincides with the geometry unit, was started by Price last year for honor students. But she said other kids found out about it and wanted to give it a go this year.
Requirements for the tin man include it being able to sit or stand by itself, it must be completely covered in tin foil and primarily be made of recycled materials — cardboard paper rolls and boxes.
Over the course of three days the project develops as kids explore the application of surface area, the difference between circumference and radius, and what Pi really does, Price said. A formula sheet helps to guide them.
“Their conversations are amazing,” Price said, adding collaboration and trial and error are central points to the project.
An example came from the group of Angelina Robbins, Addison Cantrell and Cameron Clay, as they reviewed where a mistake may have been made in their calculations.
“I think I know what we did wrong,” Robbins told her partners as they looked over their work packet, pointing out two suspect solutions because the others she had done “a million times.”
Across the room Jace Armstrong said “I’m so scared” while he wrapped a tissue box.
“It’s definitely challenging,” he added.
Price said covering every surface is difficult with the tin foil they have — it is not the only part of the project kids are graded on — but the aim is to have them make the attempt, not necessarily whether they complete it perfectly the first time.
The class finished the project Friday.