3 Act Lesson: Volume of a Cylinder

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My Inspiration

Volume is measured in cubes, hence the label cubic units.  This concept is easy to visualize when building structures with 1 in³ cubes or when calculating the volume of a rectangular prism.  A cube is a special type of rectangular prism built with, 6 sides, straight edges and right angles.

Things change when finding the volume of 3-dimensional objects with curved sides, such as a cylinder.  Conceptually understanding that the volume of a cylinder is still measured in cubes pushes against students’ preconceived notions about volume.   How can you fit a bunch of cubes perfectly into a cylinder?!?!?

When I taught this concept, I’d use examples such as containers of refried beans or Play-Doh. We discussed that if we scraped out all the beans or Play-Doh and then formed them into cubes, the number of cubes created would equal our calculated answer.  (Give or take depending on measurements and container construction).  It’s possible to then squish and jam the cubes back into the container where the beans or Play-Doh would fit compactly.

Seeing is Believing

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By connecting the volume of a cylinder with a pliable material like Play-Doh, the students were able to create a picture in their minds.  They now had a visual to reference.  After my exposure with Dan Meyer’s 3 act math concept, I knew I could build students’ capacity to understand volume through a 3 act math lesson.  The goal of the lesson would be to prove the volume calculations by taking the contents of a Play-Doh container and forming it into cubes – Therefore, providing a physical model to reference.


The 3 Act

Grade 8 Standard:  G.C.9:   Volume of a cylinder:


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Dan Meyer inquired about the radius of the sphere, so I included this picture.  If you’re discussing the volume of a sphere, you may want this information.

You can download the lesson from Dan Meyer’s Website:

Shout Outs

Thanks go out to my colleagues Mariko Arteaga and J.J. Martinez.  Mari helped create the cubes.  J.J. came on board with the stop motion idea.


Other Resources:

Blog Post: Designing & Implementing a 3-Act Lesson: The Drumstick Dash

List of my other 3-act lessons:  3 Act Lessons

Link to my Desmos Page:  Desmos Activities

My latest posts:


About jgvadnais

Instructional Technology Coach. Desmos Fellow. Google Level 1 Certified. SoCal transplant. New Englander at heart. Lover of yoga, dogs, green smoothies and coffee creamer
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6 Responses to 3 Act Lesson: Volume of a Cylinder

  1. Amazing lesson. Thank you for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kyle Ramstad says:

    I loved this 3 act problem. I have created it as a desmos activity to easily share it will my students.
    Let me know if there is anything I can add that better represents your activity.


    • jgvadnais says:

      Kyle, The AB looks great. My only suggestion would be to include a slide for students to predict the number of cubes. The prediction process provides students with an opportunity to compare and reflect on the reasonableness of their prediction against the answer.


  3. Love this task! thank you for sharing.
    A teacher I work with is doing this as a desmos activity builder. Would love your thoughts in framing our learning. What does running this on desmos add to the activity? What advice would you give about leading discussion collecting questions, gathering predictions and asking for information needed when I have a desmos peek at what everyone is saying?
    Thanks for the help!


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