Building A Better Cereal Box

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Teacher Wayne Gorry used the common cereal box to teach his fifth-grade students at Julia Randall Elementary School mathematics with real world applications.

Gorry's students began with the 12 by 8 by 2 inch dimensions of a common cereal box.

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Trayton Dendy and Rhett Bishop were tasked with the math problem of how to make a cereal box that used less cardboard but maintained the same volume.

The problem: Construct a cereal box that used less paper but maintained the same volume.

Gorry's teaching creativity caught the attention of a national publication. The problem and the students' solutions appeared as "Solutions to the Better Box Problem" by Carla Tayeh in the October 2006 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics.

Gorry's students began by drawing on graph paper, then built all possible box dimensions using eight cubes, then 16, then 24 cubes.

When his students found the concept of deconstructing the box then increasing volume more difficult than he anticipated because of the large numbers involved (192 inches), he helped them create cubes out of paper.

The hands-on activities helped them visualize the changes.

"The concept I wanted them to eventually understand is that a cube has the smallest surface area for the amount of volume," Gorry said.

The cereal box lesson culminated in the children writing a faux letter to the CEO of Crunchy O's that suggested possible new cereal box sizes.

"This year I think it will be easier for my students to understand (perimeter and area) because I learned from what we struggled with last year," Gorry said.

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