How to Teach Surface Area of 3D Shape Nets

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Oh, surface area and volume of rectangular prisms in 6th grade math – the topics that used to make me shudder as a middle school math teacher!

Let's be real, 3D shape nets with fractional edge lengths are nobody's favorite topics.

Trying to explain the tedious steps of drawing 2D geometric nets from 3D rectangular prisms, and then throwing side lengths in fractions on top of that always overwhelmed my sixth grade students. But it was so important to cover it for CCSS 6.G.A.2 and 6.G.A.4.

It was hard to get the students to listen, let alone pay attention to this confusing topic.

But what if I told you that your students could be building their favorite video game characters while practicing these difficult concepts?

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That's right, the video game that your students are already obsessed with—Minecraft—is about to become your new secret weapon in the classroom.

This is Steve, the main character in the Minecraft video game.

Whenever I bring in Steve, the energy in the classroom shifts almost instantly.

Suddenly, you have a classroom full of excited students who can't wait to calculate the surface area and volume of Steve's blocks, all so they can make their very own Minecraft character!


And the best part is that you don’t need any computers for this—all you need is this unofficial no-prep printable 3D shape nets Minecraft math project.

The materials you need are:

  • Colored pencils or markers

  • Scissors

  • Tape

  • Printouts of the project

Teaching with Steve

Bringing Steve into the classroom has been such a game-changer. Here’s how I use it:

Step 1: Generate Excitement with Minecraft (5 Minutes)

  • I like to begin by asking the class about their favorite Minecraft characters and their most memorable in-game adventures. It was fascinating to see how quickly their hands shot up, even those who might not typically be eager to participate in math class. They couldn't wait to tell me all about the game and its characters.

  • I learn something different every period. Some described building towering castles, exploring hidden caves, digging into underground lava, and encountering all sorts of hostile creatures in different biomes. This step not only generated excitement for our upcoming project but also created a sense of camaraderie among the students as they shared their Minecraft stories.

Step 2: Drawing 3D Shape Nets (20 Minutes)

  • With the energy in the room now buzzing with Minecraft enthusiasm, we transitioned to drawing the 3D shape nets of rectangular prisms. Thanks to their newfound excitement, the students were even more engaged and eager to create their own nets

  • Using the project resource, we began drawing the nets together on the dedicated pages. You can also use the given reference sheet with the nets already drawn to scale. There are color versions as well as black and white versions.

Step 3: Calculating Surface Area of 3D Shape Nets (10 Minutes)

Then we went into surface area calculations. Students applied their Minecraft-inspired creativity to calculate adding up the individual surface areas of the rectangles in the nets.

They couldn't help but draw parallels between Steve's blocks and the blocks they had seen and used in the game, making the math feel more accessible and relatable.

Step 4: Calculating Volume of 3D Shape Nets (10 minutes)

Calculating volume was the final part. Students saw the connection between the dimensions of Steve's components and the way they constructed the characters in their favorite video game.

In the end, Steve the Minecraft character had transformed our classroom into an interactive learning space, driven not only by mathematical curiosity but also by a shared passion for the game.

Step 5: Show Off As Classroom Decor (Or At Open House)

And the best part? You can show off their awesome Minecraft creations during open house and make their parents think you're the coolest teacher ever. Some of my students begged me to let them keep their Minecraft characters, so I let them.

Where to Get the Activity

Did I mention that there is another version of this project with the creeper, a hostile creature in Minecraft as well? You can get Steve, the creeper, or both!

This is honestly one of my favorite activities to use in the classroom—get it today. Trust me, you won’t regret it.


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Hi, I'm Ping!

I spent 7 years in the classroom working to make math fun and relevant in middle school, by integrating math, art, and technology. I started Congruent Math to share this all with you.

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