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In this lesson for grades 6-12, learners explore the relationship between dimension and volume. Using colored paper, students create two rectangular prisms and two cylinders to determine which holds more popcorn. They then justify their conclusions by analyzing the formulas and identifying dimensions with the largest impact on volume.

Editor's Note: This activity presents an excellent opportunity for students to gain real insight into why increasing the radius of a cylinder has more impact on volume than increased height. It will also promote understanding of why the formulas for calculating volume work.

This resource is aligned to NCTM standards and includes lesson objectives, teaching tips, and printable student worksheets with answer keys provided. It is part of a larger collection of lessons, labs, and activities developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).
Subjects Levels Resource Types
General Physics
- Measurement/Units
= Units and Dimensional Analysis
Other Sciences
- Mathematics
- Middle School
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2005 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; http://illuminations.nctm.org/TermsOfUse.aspx
cylinder, geometry, measurement, rectangular prism, volume
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created February 2, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 17, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
July 15, 2008

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1A. The Scientific Worldview
  • 3-5: 1A/E2. Science is a process of trying to figure out how the world works by making careful observations and trying to make sense of those observations.
  • 6-8: 1A/M3. Some scientific knowledge is very old and yet is still applicable today.
1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • 6-8: 1B/M1b. Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.

9. The Mathematical World

9C. Shapes
  • 6-8: 9C/M7. For regularly shaped objects, relationships exist between the linear dimensions, surface area, and volume.
  • 6-8: 9C/M10. Geometric relationships can be described using symbolic equations.
  • 9-12: 9C/H3a. Geometric shapes and relationships can be described in terms of symbols and numbers—and vice versa.

12. Habits of Mind

12B. Computation and Estimation
  • 6-8: 12B/M3. Calculate the circumferences and areas of rectangles, triangles, and circles, and the volumes of rectangular solids.
  • 6-8: 12B/M7b. Convert quantities expressed in one unit of measurement into another unit of measurement when necessary to solve a real-world problem.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Standards for Mathematical Practice (K-12)

MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Measurement and Data (K-5)

Geometric measurement: understand concepts of volume and relate volume to multiplication and to addition. (5)
  • 5.MD.3.b A solid figure which can be packed without gaps or overlaps using n unit cubes is said to have a volume of n cubic units.
  • 5.MD.5.b Apply the formulas V = l × w × h and V = b × h for rectangular prisms to find volumes of right rectangular prisms with whole-number edge lengths in the context of solving real world and mathematical problems.

Geometry (K-8)

Graph points on the coordinate plane to solve real-world and mathematical problems. (5)
  • 5.G.2 Represent real world and mathematical problems by graphing points in the first quadrant of the coordinate plane, and interpret coordinate values of points in the context of the situation.
Solve real-life and mathematical problems involving angle measure, area, surface area, and volume. (7)
  • 7.G.6 Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume and surface area of two- and three-dimensional objects composed of triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, cubes, and right prisms.
Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving volume of cylinders, cones, and spheres. (8)
  • 8.G.9 Know the formulas for the volumes of cones, cylinders, and spheres and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Measurement and the Language of Physics
Unit Title: Applying Measurement in Physics

One of the best lessons we've found to help students get the connection between dimension and volume. They conduct an experiment to create two rectangular prisms and two cylinders, then determine which design holds the most popcorn. They will test ideas, graph outcomes, and present findings. Includes printable worksheets with answer keys.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston, 2005), WWW Document, (http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927).
Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?, (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston, 2005), <http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927>.
APA Format
Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?. (2008, July 15). Retrieved January 22, 2017, from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927
Chicago Format
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?. Reston: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, July 15, 2008. http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927 (accessed 22 January 2017).
MLA Format
Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?. Reston: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2005. 15 July 2008. 22 Jan. 2017 <http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?}, Publisher = {National Council of Teachers of Mathematics}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {22 January 2017}, Month = {July 15, 2008}, Year = {2005} }
Refer Export Format

%T Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?
%D July 15, 2008
%I National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
%C Reston
%U http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927
%O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D July 15, 2008
%T Illuminations: Popcorn, Anyone?
%I National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
%V 2017
%N 22 January 2017
%8 July 15, 2008
%9 text/html
%U http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2927

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