My students’ eyes are drifting to the softly falling snow outside our classroom window with visions of Christmas presents and treats in their eyes. Learning about engineering and sustainability are the absolute last things on their minds. So out I set to create something to catch their attention and tickle their taste buds resulting in a Gingerbread Engineering activity for stressed-out teachers everywhere trying to grab their students’ attention before break!
Little did I know when creating this that my students would talk about this activity for years to come. I still have students come back to my classroom saying, “Do you remember when you let us create an entire gingerbread village in class??? That was the BEST!!” This activity is not only a TON of fun for students but teaches them the aspects of civil engineering and sustainability.
In this activity, students must work as an individual, team, and class in order to create an entire gingerbread city. They must talk about the requirements of a city, what it would need to be sustainable, and how parts of a city must fit together to flow. As a class, the students break the city into 6 parts (or however many you would like for your class) and decide what needs to be in each sector. This led to great discussions on city planning and sustainability because the students had to decide on placement and what truly was going to be functional and convenient for their gingerbread citizens. We talked about how city planners and civil engineers work together to create functioning areas and what areas that we know of in our town and cities that we would have planned better or we feel were really well put together.
The groups will then design and create their sector based on the items that they were assigned. This was really neat to see how each group made their part of the city their own and the creativity that was flowing to make sure that all parts they were assigned were included in their sector. After all of the groups created their sectors I had the students present them to show the others what they had planned and we discussed how each part fit together and if changes needed to be made. That was the tough part because so many groups had opinions of changes that needed to be made or what they thought, so it took a bit to get a final plan in place.
We then talked about how our citizens would travel through our city and what roadways needed to be built and where they would go. On the board, we mapped out the roadways to go around our structures and again made the necessary changes to make sure that the roadways were connected. The groups sketched out their final plans and off we went to the building stage.
This part can be as elaborate or simple as you would like. I try to find a middle ground, I do not allow my students to go hog wild with this and give them limits on materials. I personally give them a foam board square, a sleeve of graham crackers, a glob of premade icing, plate/plastic spoon, and I allow them to bring in any candy or decorations they want. Usually, we end up with a smorgous board of decorations with PLENTY to go around without me having to purchase extra which leaves this activity relatively cheap and simple.
I cover the desks with plastic table cloths, crank the Christmas tunes, and off they go on a building frenzy. It is so awesome to watch their creativity and problem-solving skills come to life when they build. I have seen some REALLY awesome structures come from this activity and most of all the students ENJOY building them!! Sometimes the joy of learning gets buried under all of the content that is dumped in our laps so it is so important to make sure students are learning concepts through experiences as much as possible.
I have personally used this with multiple grade levels from seniors to 6th graders and I haven’t found a class yet that did not enjoy it. In the end, I always make sure to provide a treat that my students haven’t smothered with icing while they proudly look over their classroom creations. To find this activity use the following link; https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Gingerbread-Village-Engineering-Design-Process-7005903