One of our family’s favorite places to view gingerbread houses over the holiday season is at PPG Place in Pittsburgh, PA. We are always amazed at the engineering and design of the houses on display.
Building gingerbread houses naturally lends itself to reinforcing many math and STEAM concepts.
If you don’t have a lot of time (or patience) for designing and baking your own gingerbread house, here are two shortcuts to take the stress out of constructing a house from scratch. Using these building methods will give you more time to focus on the fun parts…eating candy, decorating, and of course, the mathematics!
1. Use empty milk cartons, cereal boxes, or other cardboard boxes to build the structure. Cover the cardboard with graham crackers or pretzels to create the exterior. Use royal icing “glue” to attach the graham crackers to the cardboard. Work in small sections to give the icing glue a chance to dry. When it is dry, decorate your house!
2. Use graham crackers to create a gingerbread house structure. You can assemble the walls of the house using the royal icing glue. Let them dry before attaching the roof. If you want to build a fancier house using graham crackers, check out Charlene Dy’s video from MyRecipes.
Connect Math and Gingerbread Houses
Young children can identify the bills and coins needed to purchase items used for making and decorating the house. Older elementary-age children can add decimal values to calculate the total cost of items. Middle school children can calculate the amount of change given if the items were purchased using a specific bill.
Have middle school and high school students calculate the unit price for graham cracker rectangles, pieces of candy, etc. High school students can combine all math skills to calculate the value of their house and a selling price that yields a 20 percent profit.
While making the icing “glue,” allow your students to measure ingredients, double the recipe, etc. Discuss measuring dry ingredients versus measuring wet ingredients, making sure to point out the units such as teaspoons, cups, and ounces.
When the houses are complete, children can measure the length, width, and height of the house. Elementary-age children can measure the dimensions using centimeter cubes, while older elementary children can measure with a ruler to the nearest half inch or the nearest centimeter.
Middle school students can measure with more precision. High school students can measure to the nearest 1/16 inch or millimeter. You can even use a measuring app on a mobile device!
To incorporate geometry concepts into your gingerbread house project, have your students calculate the surface area of the house. Older children can measure using a ruler and apply surface area formulas. Younger children can approximate the area by counting the number of graham cracker rectangles in the house. Preschool age children can also identify geometric shapes in the house.
Middle and high school students can approximate a scale factor for their building, given that a real-life, single story building is approximately 15 feet (or 4.5 meters) tall.
There are so many ways to incorporate mathematics into building gingerbread houses. What are some ways that you connect gingerbread houses with mathematics concepts? I’d love to hear from you!
Melissa Tweed is a Mathematics teacher for Lincoln Learning Solutions and has been employed with the company for more than 12 years. Prior to joining Lincoln Learning Solutions, she taught for 8 years. Melissa’s graduate studies focused on instructional leadership in mathematics education. Outside of teaching, she enjoys spending time with her five children and watching their soccer games and swim meets. She also enjoys volunteering in her church.