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Geometry You Can Eat: Make Your Own Polyhedron Model Project for Elementary Students

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 8/2/2012

Math never tasted so good! Fifth grade students will love this math lesson where they use gum drops and toothpicks to construct their own edible polyhedron.

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    Geometry You Can Eat

    Turn math time into a sweet treat with this edible geometry practice for 5th grade. This hands-on-math activity is guaranteed to please your students as well as teach them about polyhedrons.

    Geometry standards require working with polygons and then moving into three dimensional territories. This is a wonderful way to provide a concrete link to deepen understanding of polyhedrons and to make geometry more exciting.

    This activity should come after students have been introduced to the polyhedron and the concept of faces (sides), edges, and vertices. The materials you will need are gumdrops, toothpicks, and record sheets that correspond to each shape.

    Buy a lot of toothpicks. Four full boxes are usually perfect but five would be a safe bet. Two bags of gumdrops should suffice. For the sake of the students' health (less sugar) and to control costs, consider having the students reuse the gumdrops when they move on to a new shape.

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    Making the Polyhedron

    Review the nature of polyhedrons. Show them the gumdrops and let them know that they will be putting their new knowledge to yummy use!

    Begin by demonstrating how they will create their own polyhedrons:

    • Take a handful of gumdrops and toothpicks.
    • Attach three toothpicks to one gumdrop.
    • Attach a gumdrop to the bottom of each of these three toothpicks. You should now have a tripod shape.
    • Consider the top gumdrop (which has all three toothpicks attached to it) as the top of a pyramid. The loose gumdrops at the other end will be the base. Using three toothpicks, attach these gumdrops together to create a triangular shape.
    • Have students identify the type of polyhedron - triangular pyramid - as well as the base, the edges, the vertices, and the faces of the pyramid.
    • Now that students know what they will do, hand out a list of the different polyhedrons students are expected to create.
    • Distribute a handful of toothpicks, and a portion of gumdrops (around twenty per student). It's nice to use paper plates to hold their materials.
    • For the next one or two shapes, work as a class, assembling in a guided format that helps students become acquainted with their role as sculptor. At this time, you should also model how to fill out their record sheets (described in the section below).

    Students are then on their own to finish. Remind the class that they are not allowed to eat their materials until they have made all the shapes and labeled them.

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    Labeling and Eating

    Before students can enjoy eating their creations, they need to demonstrate some understanding of polyhedra. You have two choices on how to proceed here. You can either have students finish all the polyhedra on the list, and then label them, or you can have students label each polyhedron as they finish it. If you opt for the latter, the students can reuse their gumdrops.

    To keep a record of their work and ensure they are really applying mathematical knowledge, pass out small slips of paper for each polyhedron that look like this:

    Rectangular Prism

    ___ Number of Faces

    ___ Number of Vertices

    ___ Number of Edges

    ___ Shape of the Base(s)

    Alternatively, you can make a master sheet for all polyhedra.

    As students work, walk around and monitor the room, checking on the gumdrop shapes, making sure that students are filling out their record sheets, and providing assistance and feedback. If some students finish before the others, encourage them to create new polyhedra with their gumdrops and toothpicks.

    Once the majority of students have completed the assignment, let the eating begin! Just make sure that each student has finished before he or she unleashes that sweet tooth.

    You'll find that polyhedron concepts stick more firmly in your students' minds after this fun project.

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    Free Play Life, Math Monday: Gumdrops and Toothpicks