Lesson plan

Volume as Additive: Create a Hamster Mansion

Students will practice calculating volume as an additive property by making mock hamster mansions from boxes. Groups will calculate the volume of living space that they designed for their hamster in cm³ and document their work.
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Students will be able to calculate the volume of two adjacent rectangular prisms by adding the volumes of the two figures.

(5 minutes)
  • Invite students to think about the space around them: their school, apartment or home. Someone designed those spaces.
  • To get students thinking as designers, in small groups or pairs, prompt them to list some of the issues that architects need to think about when they design a living or work space for people. What things do they need to consider? Possible ideas include: bathrooms, size of rooms, being able to move from one floor to the other, place to eat, etc.
  • Share out ideas, for fun.
(5 minutes)
  • Inform students that one of the biggest issues they must consider is space. How much space will be in the building? How will it be used?
  • Explain that, according to the guidelines for healthy hamster housing, hamsters need at least 30,000 cubic centimeters to live healthy lives. Write this number on the board.
  • Tell students that later on in the lesson they will be constructing a hamster mansion for an imaginary hamster.
(10 minutes)
  • Hold up one of the boxes you have on hand. Ask students how they could determine if this box was big enough for a dwarf hamster.
  • Either take guesses from the whole class or do a think-pair-share. If students don’t suggest it, remind them how to calculate the volume of a rectangular prism by multiplying all three dimensions.
  • Select a student volunteer to measure one dimension and then write it on the board. Do the same for the other two dimensions, then multiply to find the volume.
  • Model labeling the total with units³.
  • Do the same process with another, different box.
  • Configure the two boxes together to create one shape. Ask students how they might calculate the volume of this new shape. Call on students to share their thinking.
  • If students don’t suggest it, explain that the total volume is equal to the volume of the two shapes added together.
(20 minutes)
  • Assemble students in small groups of 3-5 students.
  • Distribute copies of Volume as Additive: Data for My Hamster Mansion worksheet to the whole class. Go over the directions together.
  • Pass out the boxes so that each group has 3 rectangular prisms (boxes) and make some packing tape available if necessary.
  • Instruct students to collaborate on the construction and volume calculations, and complete all of the sections on the activity sheet together.


  • Review the calculation of volume using base ten blocks to demonstrate. Then transition to measurements and the formula, modeling how this is a more efficient way to calculate volume than counting cubes.


  • Have students add another box to their structure.
  • Have students add another shape that is NOT a rectangular prism to their structure. Instruct them to research how to find the volume of that particular kind of shape, and then add it to their total.
(5 minutes)
  • Draw a simple sketch of a structure comprised of two rectangular prisms on the board along with their dimensions (use figures that are easy to multiply mentally). Instruct students to calculate the volume of the entire structure and label it correctly.
  • Circulate the room to check their answers providing quick support to those who need it.
(5 minutes)
  • Have groups share out their work with the class. Have each student in the class share one idea of an item they would add to the design of their mansion.

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