Students all struggled with a similar math problem recently. The truth was that they didn't have enough experience with the solid figure mentioned and the activity featured in the problem. They couldn't imagine it.
To teach the unit well, students would have lots of practice manipulating the figure and related activities, and that experience would later allow them the ability to imagine different related scenarios and then problem solve.
Today, because of a lack of time, I'll do a demonstration with the figure to help them gain some ability to imagine the problems included in the systemwide test. Next year I'll coordinate a whole unit in this regard, a unit that gives students plenty of hands-on experience with the content focus.
One area of our current math program I still struggle with is that we just don't have the time for the rich investigations possible, investigations that will build greater capacity to imagine and solve problems. Over the summer I'm going to look at how I can use the time we have to create more 3D hands-on units, rather than too many 2D paper/pencil tasks to learn. Rich problem/project learning will lead more students forward with math learning and teaching. I look forward to study enrichment and the enthusiasm, engagement, and education that will follow next year.
In the meantime, this year, I'll provide the hands-on example today to help students with the problem--I'm sure the visual will help. Then I'll incorporate other hands-on math activities as we complete end-of-year STEAM explorations and activities.
One reason play is so important is that it gives students the opportunity to explore multiple objects and scenarios which they can later use for the imagination necessary to solve problems. Math play includes using lots of different shapes, figures, materials, and activities to build a strong base for later math learning. I'll move to include more math play and experiential learning in the days ahead.