Using Area as an Architect (Stations Day 1)

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SWBAT develop their understanding of area through developing floor plans for an orphanage in the DR Congo and a tiny restaurant for a refugee family in Kampala, Uganda. They support both of these goals with student centered fundraising. Note: Activity works with other floor plans as well - orphanage does not have to be the them!

Big Idea

In this multi-day activity, students make 3 different models of an orphanage floor plan using Google Drawing, Virtual Graphpaper, and a construction of rectilinear shapes, to calculate the area of each room using units square.

Why Math Matters

This may see an odd lesson for 3rd grade students. I've give it a great deal of thought, and here is why I think this lesson is important:

As we educate children in the core subjects, it’s imperative that we develop intercultural competence and world citizenship.  This is what I believe.

Our world grows more interconnected each day.  Our students need to be prepared.  When we help each other, we are at our best as human beings.  This year, my students decide they want to do more to help refugees and orphans in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. 

In September, the students have a fundraiser movie night.  Some of the money they raise helps a refugee family now living in Uganda.  The family, (3 adults, Baraka -1, Alphonse -2, Julius-3, Frank -5, and Yvette, a 12 year old orphan they took in as they fled) had lost their one room home because they couldn’t pay the rent.  The money students raise help pay for a month’s rent and some food.

The students' next goal is to help this family survive, until we can raise adequate funds for them to start a small restaurant and thereby become self-supporting.  You'll find more about this in this lesson's homework section.

As a teacher, this is a very difficult project for me because I know we may not get help to them in time. As a teacher, this project is invaluable to me because small acts of kindness matter and are never futile.  Kids need to know this.  We need to know this.  Helping this family is our immediate goal.

Children also need to see models of how to persevere (on a long project) despite adversity. Building an orphanage for children in Mbunde, Democratic Republic of Cong is our challenging long-term goal.

Planning the area of the rooms in an orphanage for these children, or the area of a restaurant for little Baraka Magendo’s family in Kampala, is an urgent, real world purpose for learning about area and perimeter.  This kind of lesson can be very meaningful. Kids can make sense of difficult math and real problems and persevere in solving them.  Math matters.


24 minutes

For the next several days, we are going to be applying what you know about multiplication and repeated addition to find the area of rooms for an orphanage.

Think in your head/ share with a partner/ share with the class (for all of the following):

What is an orphanage?

What do you need to know before you can plan it out? 

Next I checked in on student thinking using an entrance ticket. When you look at some of the student responses to the entrance ticket, a range of understanding of the purpose of planning is evident.

Some other example responses to WHAT QUESTION:  How large an area you can build upon, how much it will cost, how many rooms are needed, what kinds of rooms are needed, how many orphans and adults guardians will live in the building.

What do you think floor plan means?

You are going to rotate through four different stations, and at each one you will take a different approach to creating your plan for an orphanage.  I will explain each station to you and then you will begin.

This lessons continues with a powerpoint overview of the Area Orphanage Explanation of the Stations Day One


The detailed information on setting up these stations is provided here in the resources.

Background information for the teacher:

This multi-day lesson on applying area uses the construction of an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the focus.   My class is in contact with (insert video) the founder of a non-government organization (NGO) based in Goma, DRC.  One of the NGOs goals is to eventually build an orphanage for children who have lost their families in the war, chaos, poverty, and lack of infrastructure. 

This task has real-world content, and the children consequently relate to it in a different way than imaginary tasks.  (Both are valid).  Later, I will be adding alternative activities to this lesson in which the theme of an orphanage has changed and students instead build a summer camp or something equivalent which can be put into any context a teacher chooses to use.  That way teachers who are not comfortable using this topic with their class can still use this lessons series!

The Four Stations

50 minutes

Station One - Paper Cut Out Model

Students really enjoy this activity, and once it is set up, the students can drive their own learning with only occasional guidance and redirection from the teacher. It takes about an hour of prep time to get the labels and room templates ready, so this is a great opportunity to invite a parent helper to class!

Don't forget to also provide each student with a copy of the checklist of rooms. You can find further tips in the teacher instruction and ideas to keep in mind as you facilitate this station. 

Here are some examples of student activity at this station: 

Station Two - Google Drawing

The focus of this station is the students will design a floor plan for an orphanage that includes all of the rooms on the checklist, using rectangles and rectilinear shapes only.  First the rooms are labeled and then the area of the rooms will be calculated.

The station two student directions walks students through what to do at this station.  You may either use it as part of your introduction, or email it to them so that can pull it up to reference while they are working independently.

If your students do not have Google accounts, you will need to set this up prior to using Google Drawing, which is a feature of Google Drive.  My students have gmail accounts through the school district.  Keep a list of their user name and passwords (that they need to memorize) and remind them this account is for work purposes only.  

Review with them or teach them how to open a Google Drawing.  Teaching students to use a consistent naming convention will make your life much easier.  Remember they'll also need to know to share the file with themselves and with you.

Station Three:  Plan de l’orphelinat - A Real Architect's Plan

Students determine the area of each room on the  Floor Plan of l'orphelinat (orphanage), and the enlarged version of the Floor Plan of the orphanage in one of several ways:

  • Repeated addition
  • Multiplying the length x the width (calculator may be used for rooms with out-of-level factors)
  • Decomposing a room into known factors, calculating the area of each given section, and then adding the sections to find the total area of the room

I suggest you have your students work on the patio last!  It is the least important, and the largest.

Station Four - Virtual Graph Paper

Students use an online program called Virtual Graph (Bartlett) to, once again, design a floor plan for an orphanage.  The repetition of this process is very intentional.  This gives students an extended opportunity to experiment with making rectilinear forms out of rectangles.  It will also provide them with an opportunity to analyze changes within their own work.  

In my class, only one of the 30 children asked, "Do I have to do this again, since I just did it over there?" The rest unquestioningly came up with a different plan each time.  It's interesting...

I've included blank graph paper here in 3 different sizes, to provide an alternative for students who are either unable to go online or who do not complete the virtual graph within the necessary time frame. 

Graph Paper Small  Graph Paper Medium   Graph Paper Large


4 minutes

Call the children together briefly and have them fill out and /or discuss what they thought about today at their stations.  Reusing the entrance ticket as an exit ticket allows you to see if there are any changes in student understandings.  Here are some examples from my students.


2 minutes

I give the students a piece of blank graph paper (I've collected 3 different sizes to meet the needs of all my students) and challenge them to draw a small starter restaurant with an area no greater than 800 square units/ meters.  I didn't put any other constraints upon this activity. This project also has a real world context. The students also raise funds for a refugee family in Kampala, Uganda. Right now, our funds help keep them housed, but we hope to help them start this small business, so they can be self supporting. These plans will be used in a lesson in the next series of lessons related to area and perimeter.

An alternative to the restaurant in Kampala, Uganda is to ask students to design a restaurant for their local community with an area of 2000 sq. meters and a dining room, kitchen, bathrooms, and entrance/hallway. You can specify the type, location, or target clientele as well - perhaps a healthy food restaurant or a make your own pizza place just for children!