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The Cone and Cylinder Debate!

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Photo of Holly (Teach Starter)
Updated | 2 min read

Who would have thought that the properties of the cone and cylinder would cause such a stir in the Teach Starter office? But, they certainly did some time ago! As teachers, a lot of us taught our young students that cones and cylinders have edges and faces. Anyone else?

However, this is no longer the case and there is a mathematical reason behind this change!

Male mathematics teacher


Why Do Cylinders and Cones Not Have Edges or Faces?

As teachers, we thought the best place to look to clear up the debate would be the Australian curriculum. However, like a lot of sites, it wasn’t very clear why cones and cylinders do not have edges or faces.

We found the NSW syllabus outlines the language that should be used the classroom around this topic to be very clear, Hence, we are using this as our source of information:

  • In geometry, the term ‘face’ refers to a flat surface with only straight edges, as in prisms and pyramids, eg. a cube has six faces.
  • Curved surfaces, such as those found in cylinders, cones, and spheres, are not classified as ‘faces’.
  • Similarly, flat surfaces with curved boundaries, such as the circular surfaces of cylinders and cones, are not ‘faces’.
  • In geometry, the term ‘edge’ refers to the interval (straight line) formed where two faces of a three-dimensional object meet.
  • The NSW Syllabus describes a cylinder as a 3D object that has two flat surfaces, one curved surface, no faces, no edges and no vertices.

It’s really important that children grasp the difference between prisms, pyramids, cubes and cones, cylinders and spheres. By understanding the mathematical definitions of the language used to describe the properties of 3D objects, your students are being set up for success.

Resources to get you started:

Image of Geometry Word Wall Vocabulary

teaching resource

Geometry Word Wall Vocabulary

A geometry word wall to teach your students the associated vocabulary.

Teach Starter Publishing2 pagesYears: 4 - 7Customisable
Image of 3D Objects – Interactive PowerPoint Presentation

teaching resource

3D Objects – Interactive PowerPoint Presentation

An interactive PowerPoint presentation that teaches the features of 3D Objects.

Teach Starter Publishing74 pagesYears: 1 - 6
Image of 3D Objects and Their Properties - Puzzle Match-Up Activity

teaching resource

3D Objects and Their Properties - Puzzle Match-Up Activity

A set of 8 match up puzzles to use in the classroom when exploring the properties of 3D objects.

Teach Starter Publishing8 pagesYear: 5
Image of Individual 3D Objects Blue Print Posters

teaching resource

Individual 3D Objects Blue Print Posters

3D objects and their names, diagrams and properties on individual posters.

Teach Starter Publishing10 pagesYears: 1 - 7

18 Comments

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  • Lorraine Marriott
    ·

    Thank you for this valuable information and for updating your resources. I had no idea that the syllabus had changed.

    • Dean Hughes
      ·

      No problem, Lorraine! Thank you for the comment, we're here to help!

  • Raylene Bowtell
    ·

    Hello, So if cylinders and cones do not have an edge what do you call that part where the two sides meet?? It exists therefore needs a name. And what do you call the circular face if only a face has straight sides? Thanks Raylene

    • Tom (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Hi Raylene, A 'circular face' is referred to as a flat surface in the NSW syllabus. As for the 'edges' of cones and cylinders, the NSW syllabus doesn't explicitly state what they are called. It refers to the objects' circular faces as having curved boundaries, but does give a name to their 'curved edges'. Naming this type of feature could be a fun activity for your students! Have them come up with a cool new name and pitch it to the class.

  • Kathymc1
    ·

    What does the Australian curriculum say about this? I tried to find it on their website but with no luck.

    • Tom (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Hi Kathy, The Australian Curriculum does't really give us much clarification on this topic. The blog outlines the NSW terminology, but the Australian Curriculum only mentions faces, corners and edges. So it seems like the debate rages on! If we can assist you with anything else, please don't hesitate to get in touch!

  • Holly (Teach Starter)
    ·

    Hi Jeremy, this was written some time ago however the information is still exactly the same. We found this information - https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/curriculum/key-learning-areas/mathematics/Early-Stage-1-to-Stage-3/resources/diagnostic-tasks/3d-shape--sort-and-classify. I hope that is helpful. Thanks for your message.

  • Tracey Keynes
    ·

    I am wondering the same thing. I thought Apec and vertex were the same thing, but does the cone have one if it does not have edges? I think the answer is "no".

  • Alba Aparicio
    ·

    So is the point of the cone a vertex or apex? Cheers

    • Holly (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Hi Alba, I believe it's an apex.

  • Marcelino Simamora
    ·

    When I did my teaching, I found also confusing with cone and cylinder. No edges and vertices ? and only faces?

    • Kristian
      ·

      Hi Marcelino, I am glad this blog could help you with defining the properties of these two objects. If there is anything else we can assist you with, please don't hesitate to contact me.

  • Polly Alexander
    ·

    The posters in your shape set still have a sphere as having one face... given what you have decided above does this need to be updated?

    • Holly (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Hi Polly, Thanks so much for notifying us of this. We have now updated that resource to reflect the information in this blog. Have a lovely day!

  • Sharon Hayman
    ·

    Thanks for the correct terminology ! its great to have resources that reflect the current information.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Thanks for your comment Sharon :)

  • Elisabet Kovacevic
    ·

    So pleased the labeling of these 3D objects has been brought to everyone's attention. Many available resources don't apply the correct terms.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)
      ·

      Thanks for your comment Elizabet! Kind regards, Holly

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