Finding Area Using Valentine Candy Hearts

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If there is one thing I love, it is taking advantage of fun holidays to make math and school fun for kids.  School--day in and day out--can get pretty tedious and Valentine's Day is a perfect opportunity to liven things up by using conversation hearts in the math classroom!

Today, I will show you how I adapted a neat lesson for finding surface area in the book, "Family Math" by Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson, Ruth Cossey, and Marilyn Hill.  In it, they use the tracing of their hands and dried beans to estimate, count, and figure the surface area.  I tweaked things a bit for Valentine's Day, but you can use any shape you want and small counters to do this activity any time of the year. 

Here is what your students will learn while completing this activity:

  • Students will estimate and count the number of counters it takes to fill a given shape. 
  • Students will estimate and count the number of 1-centimeter cubes found within given shape.
  • Students will demonstrate the relationship between the formula of area and the actual meaning of area.
  • Students will use a given rectangle to figure the surface area of all 6 sides. 


First, give each student a piece of 1-centimeter graph paper, a quarter sheet of cardstock, scissors, pencil, and a box of conversation candy hearts.

Then, students cut a heart from their quarter sheet of cardstock.  

Ask:  How many conversation hearts will be able to fit inside the heart?  How many graph paper cubes will be counted within the heart?  Students make an educated guess by writing their estimations on their heart.  

Ask students to trace their heart on the graph paper--twice.  

Arrange the candy hearts within the heart outline as neatly as possible without leaving too many gaps.  Students can place their hearts on its side and count it as a 1/2 heart if needed.  Count the hearts and place the answer above it.

Now, count the cubes found within the second heart.  Students will need to average the number of cubes present by adding incomplete cubes together with other incomplete cubes (1/4 or 1/2 or 3/4) to count for a whole cube.  Write the total number of cubes above it. 

Students and teacher discuss the difference between the estimations and the real answers.  What did they learn?

Now, give students another piece of graph paper (invite the students to eat the candies if you like), and instruct them to trace all six sides of the box onto the graph paper, making sure to line up the box against a row to ensure that they will not have to count incomplete cubes.  

Students place the formula for area at the top of their papers and proceed to multiply the length X the base in order to find the area for each section of the box.  When finished, students add the numbers for the individual sides together to get the complete area for the entire box.  Check answers with neighbors.

I had one student who pointed out that she needed to only trace three sides of the box because they were identical to the other three sides.  She reasoned that she simply could multiply the answer by 2, at the end.  Good for her!  I was happy that she made that connection and encouraged her to show me her work in the way that made the best sense to her.  It is so important to empower kids to go forward in their thinking if they are able!  

I really appreciate how this activity allows students to explore the fact that surface area is simply counting the boxes inside the shape.  They also learn that they can speed things up and be even more efficient by knowing the formula for area and exercising that knowledge to find the surface area quickly!  

If you have any fun Valentine math activities to share, please link them below in the comments section.  I'd love to share them!