Two years ago, I had a student named Ricky. Every day, Ricky would regale the class with the bountiful meals that his mom would prepare. One day, it went like this:

Ricky: Last night, my mom made spaghetti tacos.
Vaudrey: Huh? That sounds terrible.
Ricky: No, they’re sooooo good! Do you like spaghetti?
Vaudrey: Yes.
Ricky: And tacos?
Vaudrey: …yes…
Ricky: That’s what it is! Two great things that are even better together!

Today, I ripped off two great blog posts, added a few sprinkles of my own “marinara” and had some pretty tasty learning for a Friday.


First, we discussed square roots and squares in terms of Cheese crackers, based on a sweet idea from Julie Reulbach. I modified the worksheet to include a horizontal number line and a couple more columns for Perimeter and Area.

(This is a good spot to mention that I teach 8th grade, not 6th grade like Julie does. Plus I have a mixture of RSP students, discipline problems, and students who blow through any activity in half the time that I expected.)

Like the three men in this picture, respectively.

Like the three men in this picture, respectively. (Clockwise)

We started by discussing measurements, and agreed that “cracker length” would be our standard measurement. Perimeter and Area aren’t hit very hard in our Algebra curriculum, but luckily the students remembered them quickly. The steps went like this:

  • Build a square that is two sides by two sides. How many crackers did you use? What is the perimeter? What is the area?
  • Now build one that’s three by three. Crackers? Perimeter? Area?
  • Roam the class, make sure that students aren’t making 3×2 rectangles.
  • Briefly discuss the difference between square and rectangle, begin to dive deep into quadrilaterals.
  • Realize that there are 19 days left and your Algebra students aren’t interested in the intricacies of polygon classification.
    • And it takes a special teacher to make “five interior right angles” interesting.


Around the time we got to building 4×4 squares out of cheese crackers, students were generalizing patterns all over the room.1 Here is some student chatter:

  • The perimeter is just four times the side length.
  • The number of crackers is the same as the area!
  • I need more Cheez Nips! “Can you do the math without them? What patterns do you see?
  • This column is just this number times itself.
  • We just added by fours and got each one.
  • Do I have to build the cracker square? I can do the math without it.
  • This is pretty hard work for a Friday.

That last one made me feel good. I was worried about taking a 6th grade concept and porting it to my Algebra class, but it was surprisingly effective.

Especially with this:

blue yeti microphone

This is the latest edition to my EduArsenal: the Yeti microphone by Blue. I plugged this bad boy into my classroom’s Macbook Air and voilà!

An instant video studio in the class, and I’m the director.


Less than half the videos actually got made. Here’s why:

The students wanted to make sure they understood the concept, so they rehearsed for several minutes and ran out of time to record.

How sweet is that?

Also, we followed the cracker activity with the Showdown.

Showdown 2

Stolen–again–from Julie’s website, it’s just a bunch of quick square root practice. I threw in a one-on-one faceoff and give it a name like “ShowDown”, and the students are all about it.

Frantically scribbling roots on whiteboards, shouting and yelling, and debating each other; it was magical.

Even the fourth period–who is usually slow to jump on board with discussions–was arguing with each other over the fine points of simplifying radicals:


“No, look! If you have TWO of the same ones in the … thingy, then it’s just one of ’em!”

Close enough. I’ll take it.


Today, I didn’t have time for this idea–from Sarah Hagan–to estimate square roots. It can be done on a low-tech scale with dice at students’ desks, but a SmartBoard could make it into a Showdown.

Of which–of course–I’m a fan.

Julie emphasized the estimation of square roots, while I was content to work on square numbers. Monday, we do Pythagorean Theorem, and I wanted a day some food and a fun activity.

Because there are 19 days left. Judge me if you must.

UPDATE 13 May 2013: Pics of student work from the iPad class.

1. Man, that was a great sentence to write.