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STANDARDS

CCSS: 6.G.A.4, 7.G.A.1, MP4, MP5, MP7

TEKS: 7.9D, 7.5C

Home Sweet Home

How to build a festive gingerbread house that will last the entire holiday season

“A Year of Gingerbread Houses” By Kristine Samuell/© 2014 Shannon O’Hara

This month, many people will head to their kitchens to do some gingerbread construction work. It’s not easy building a structure from nothing but baked dough, icing, and candies. A slight jolt and these treats can collapse.

For tips on creating a spectacular yet sturdy gingerbread house, Scholastic MATH spoke with structural engineer Mary Cuthbert. She usually designs hospitals and labs for building firm KPFF in Los Angeles. But once a year, Cuthbert and her colleagues build gingerbread houses as part of a company-wide contest. They test them on a shaking table, which is used to simulate earthquakes. The house that remains standing longest wins. “It’s a way to share holiday spirit while geeking out about architecture and engineering,” says Cuthbert.

The first step is to draw out a plan. “Consider what you want every piece to look like and how the pieces will fit together,” says Cuthbert.

Keeping the roof light minimizes the structural load, or weight, on the walls. When a heavy roof shifts from side to side, it puts stress on its supports. That’s why an accidental jolt can knock down an unstable gingerbread house.

Also, builders should think about the distribution of weight in the house. “Avoid stacking something heavy on top of something skinny,” says Cuthbert. “You want a house that’s wider at the base and narrower toward the top.”

This month, many people will head to their kitchens to try to make gingerbread houses. But it’s not easy building a structure from nothing but baked dough, icing, and candies. One bump and these treats can collapse!

Scholastic MATH wanted tips for creating a spectacular yet sturdy gingerbread house. So we spoke with structural engineer Mary Cuthbert. She works at the building firm KPFF in Los Angeles. She usually designs hospitals and science labs. But once a year, Cuthbert and her colleagues build gingerbread houses. It’s part of a company-wide contest. They test their houses on a shaking table. The one that stays standing longest wins! “It’s a way to share holiday spirit while geeking out about architecture and engineering,” says Cuthbert.

The first step is to draw out a plan. “Consider what you want every piece to look like and how the pieces will fit together,” says Cuthbert.

Keeping the roof light is important. That reduces the weight the walls have to hold up. When a heavy roof shifts from side to side, it puts stress on the walls. That’s why an accidental bump can knock down an unstable gingerbread house.

Builders should also think about the distribution of weight in the house. “Avoid stacking something heavy on top of something skinny,” says Cuthbert. “You want a house that’s wider at the base and narrower toward the top.”    

Get four sheets of paper, a ruler, and a pencil. Use the information above and a ruler to draw nets of small-scale versions of different gingerbread houses. The dimensions of each gingerbread house are listed below. Draw your nets at a scale of 1 inch = 0.25 inch. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Get four sheets of paper, a ruler, and a pencil. Use the information above and a ruler to draw nets of small-scale versions of different gingerbread houses. The dimensions of each gingerbread house are listed below. Draw your nets at a scale of 1 inch = 0.25 inch. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

EYEWASH

This gingerbread house is a rectangular prism with the dimensions marked.

This gingerbread house is a rectangular prism with the dimensions marked.

EYEWASH

This gingerbread house is a triangular prism with the dimensions marked.

This gingerbread house is a triangular prism with the dimensions marked.

EYEWASH

This gingerbread house has a square pyramid roof with no base attached to a cube with no top face. All dimensions are marked.

This gingerbread house has a square pyramid roof with no base attached to a cube with no top face. All dimensions are marked.

EYEWASH

A. This gingerbread house is a pentagonal prism with parallel sides and the dimensions marked. The roof pieces extend 0.5 in. past the front, back, and sides of the walls. What is the length and width of each roof face?

A. This gingerbread house is a pentagonal prism with parallel sides and the dimensions marked. The roof pieces extend 0.5 in. past the front, back, and sides of the walls. What is the length and width of each roof face?

B. Draw a net of the roof and another net of the floor and walls.

B. Draw a net of the roof and another net of the floor and walls.

Google Quiz

Click the Google Quiz button below to share an interactive version of the questions with your class. Click Download PDF for the non-interactive blank answer sheet.

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