Whitefield Academy Blog
Sugar Cube Pyramids: The Epic Project
My oldest daughter is a second grader this year, which means she’s starting to study history.
Daughter: “We’re starting to study history.”
Mom: “Oh yeah, what are you starting with?”
Daughter: *eye roll* “Adam and Eve.”
As the year has progressed so too has the history that second grade studies. They are now finishing up their unit on Ancient Egypt. For their final project on the subject, each of the second graders must combine their math skills with their history skills and build a pyramid entirely of sugar cubes and icing. It’s kind of like the time that all the second grade girls came over to our house and made gingerbread houses except no one got in my car and extemporaneously sang Joy to the World and then got all their uniform shoes mixed up after removing them at the front door.
So last Thursday, all of the second grade tumbled over each other into the lunch room. Waiting for each student was a piece of cardboard, a box of sugar cubes, a tub of icing, and a plastic knife. The students were instructed to build a 10 cube by 10 cube base and to then make each pyramid layer one cube smaller. Piece of cake, right?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the seven-year-old version of me could sit and glue together 100+81+64+49+36+25+16+9+4+1 sugar cubes. I certainly never tried. It quickly became clear to me that this sugar cube pyramid project was going to be a major milestone for each of these students.
It was also going to take a very long time.
And be extremely competitive.
Loud yells quickly filled the room, keeping everyone updated on who had the most of their base level finished. High-pitched warnings passed between the tables: “Don’t lick your fingers! They’ll get sticky!”
I attempted to remind a few particular students that talking too much would slow them down. One student adamantly agreed and launched into a long diatribe on the detriments of talking too much while trying to build a sugar cube pyramid, as her 3×3 sugar cube base sat waiting for her to finish her thought.
What I thought was going to be a quick and easy sugar cube project turned into a two-hour-long lesson in perseverance, encouragement, kindness, and grit.
As you can imagine, some kids moved pretty quickly and some moved very slowly. Some were very diligent and methodical, others were a little more artistic. Some were completely covered in icing and some were…completely covered in icing.
The minutes passed quickly and the pressure to complete the project became palpable. The initial temptation to compare progress with each other turned into encouragement and compliments. And as students began to finish, they immediately turned to their neighbors and helped in whatever way they could: running to get more sugar cubes, sharing their icing, and working together to finish the top layers.
That afternoon, I circled around in the carpool line and watched my daughter proudly walk to the car holding her pyramid. I knew that it was more than just an Egyptian math problem. It represented her persevering even when she was bored and wanted to quit. It represented her friend, John, helping her get the last few layers completed, and it represented a big accomplishment for a little seven-year-old.
No, we aren’t going to eat it.