'Tis the Chees'n Pasta Graphing

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SWBAT design and record a graph using holiday-shaped pasta.

Big Idea

This fun, inexpensive activity using seasonal pasta from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese helps students compare numbers and can be reused again & again.

Attention Grabber/Introduction

5 minutes

“Hey friends!  I found us another fun Christmas graph!” I declare, with my usual enthusiasm back.

“Can we eat it?!” one of my turkeys blurts.

“Well… not exactly.  But it’s easy to tell what the different shapes are!” I announce, triumphantly.

“It is going to be so easy to find all the shapes and put them on graphs!!” I announce.

“Here is the graph that we will be building,” I continue, showing the graph with the document camera on the “big screen.”  “It’s not too different from the graph yesterday, except—let me show you what we’re working with!  There’s a… snowflake!” I say, as I show a snowflake pasta on the “big screen.”

“It looks like a spider web!” one of my biggest jokesters declares, but before I can even protest, other kiddos say, “Hey—you can tell what it is!  It’s not a blob!” 

After a few giggles, I show a snowman, (which clearly resembles a snowman), a stocking, and a candy cane.  “You know what to do, right friends?” I ask.

Guided Practice

15 minutes

I pick a kiddo who was fairly uncertain about graphing in previous lessons, and I put him on the spot.  (He was “getting it” at the end of the lesson, so I’m hoping his knowledge “stuck.”  If not, I’m right there to carefully add hints and suggestions as needed.)

“Find the snowflakes,” I tell him, and he gathers up the snowflakes.  I watch, secretly more intently than the class, as he places the snowflakes in their column, from the bottom of the graph in their column until the snowflakes run out.

“Girls and boys, is he right?” I ask. 

The group declares “Yes!” and the boy appears to stand a couple inches taller, he is so proud.  I match his proud grin with a very happy smile, and I thank him for his excellent work.

“Now, how do we know which squares to color?” I ask next.  I pick a girl who seems to be confused with the details of marking a graph to show us how to… mark a graph!  Is it fair?  Well… yes!  It’s an excellent learning opportunity, and again, I make sure there’s plenty of support just as soon as she needs it.

I ask her to pick a color for the snowflakes, and she picks purple, her favorite color.  I ask the group, in part so that their answer provides clarification for my helper, “Can she also pick pink to color the snowflakes?” and the group says, “No!  Just one color!”

“So… how does she know what to color?” I ask again.  This time, I pick a student who watches me carefully when I demonstrate activities.  (Those sweet, observant kiddos need their moments, too!)  She explains how to slide the objects to the edge of the squares and put a little mark to remember which squares to color. 

Our friend at the graph starts making little marks in squares.  Ah!  The power of suggestion! I can’t even say a word before the graphing buddy goes back and colors over the squares that have little marks.  So cool!

I can’t contain myself and start blurting out, “Oh my goodness!  How did you know just what to do?!?  Wow!”

“Well… the marks tell me what squares need coloring, so I colored ‘em in,” she explains.  

“Girls and boys,” I say, hardly able to contain myself, “Your friends just showed you what you will be doing as you build your graphs!  Are you ready?” I ask. 

The students almost cheer as we go to our tables, one work group at a time.

Independent Practice

15 minutes

Students build their own graphs at tables.  I give each kiddo a handful of our pasta—from boxes I bought actually last winter, but the reusability is just one of the benefits of this activity.  I take a quick glance to make sure kiddos get a variety of objects in their handfuls, and I watch the kids get busy graphing.

A few kiddos finish really quickly.  Of course, I begin asking about rows that have more and rows that are the same.  To keep things interesting, I ask kids to explain parts of their graph to me.  I point to the shortest row and say, “Tell me about this…” waiting for the student to say, “That has the least” (or something similar).  Occasionally, I’m giving hints or offering key vocabulary to support a student, but for the most part, the kiddos are kind of knocking my socks off!


10 minutes

This downloaded packet is really great.  In addition to the graphing activity, there’s an addition page that fast finishers do with great enthusiasm.  They switch gears from graphing to adding like seasoned mathematicians!

As the guided practice time ticks away, more students finish their graphs and begin the addition activity.  As opposed to the first group who completed the addition with confidence and ease, this second group of students really struggles.  For one thing, they are not used to having pictures to represent quantities.  On the top of the page, the student writes a number by the snowflake, for instance, so that every time he sees the snowflake below, he will know the snowflake represents a specific number.  Some kiddos, however, are struggling with this concept, and I actually have them write numbers right next to the pictures at the bottom of the page.

A few kiddos who just zoom through math get finished with the addition extension so quickly that they even have time to complete a patterning activity.  This is a great opportunity for them:  how well can they take an activity that we do at calendar (and honestly, only at calendar) every day, and transfer their skills to math—with little explanation?  Some kiddos experience challenge daily with their academics… for other kiddos, it might take something like the second extension during math to get them thinking, “Hmm…” Challenge is a good thing, and it’s awesome that this downloaded packet has so many opportunities to engage students.


5 minutes

We put a few different student graphs up on “the big screen,” each time discussing our math vocabulary: more, most, fewer (less), least, and same.

We talk briefly about the procedure of making graphs, including making the little marks in the squares before coloring to make bars.   I even take a moment to point out one of our super hard worker’s coloring and the way that he carefully colored in his bars to really make them stand out and show information.

When I ask about students’ favorite part of the activity, one kiddo says he liked that it was easy to tell what the shapes are.  One turkey insists that the snowflakes look like spider webs, but we all agree that spider web-snowflakes are a lot easier to work with than the blobs from the Christmas Crunch cereal!  (Although, of course, someone mentions that he liked eating his cereal the other day, and he wished our pasta was cooked so he could eat it after he did his math.  Do I have turkeys, or do I have turkeys, I tell ya!)