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Gingerbread Houses + Measurement

To wrap up before the holiday break, I did one of my favorite holiday crafts for children with a fresh mathematical twist. When I taught math, I found that measurement was a huge area of weakness for my students, regardless of what grade or math course they were in. Children are not using rulers, protractors, scales and other measuring instruments enough in math courses and this weakness is revealed in testing. Ironically, standardized test preparation is surely a big part of why kids aren’t measuring things anymore.

First Things First: Doing the Math

Needless to say, the students in my after-school math program were not feeling very “math-y” at the start of our last session before Christmas.  Nevertheless, I required each child  to measure the dimensions of the (empty/rinsed) orange juice carton that would be used as the base for their gingerbread houses and calculate the base perimeter and area. Older students (middle school) also had to find the carton’s surface area and volume. Did I mention that the dimensions were not whole numbers? And we did not round! My volunteers and I closely watched for measurement errors and assisted the children with using a ruler properly and calculating measurements with attention to accuracy and precision. After about thirty minutes, the students were so into their measuring and calculating, we had to remind them that we had another table set up with candy and icing for them to decorate their houses!

Building the Houses

Setting up separate areas for decorating and measurement helped the kids to focus on the math until it was time to decorate the houses.  To make a gingerbread house out of a milk carton, coat the carton with icing (the layer should be very thin to reduce the mess) and cover the carton with graham crackers. You may even be able to find gingerbread-flavored crackers! Then they can decorate their houses with candy, marshmallows and icing. It was perfect–our learners went home for the holidays with a sweet Christmas treat and a head full of numbers and units!

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