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Building a Wall of Pickles

Many years ago, I tried to dream up interesting explorations while working with middle school students. I remember several well, but this one has stood out as a fun experience that I would not do today.

Basically, I had made an agreement with the local McDonalds that they would serve as the focus of a class trip. Each student, armed with measuring tools of many types, was given a regular hamburger...to investigate and measure, not to eat.

My mathematical goal were to use proportions to work with large numbers. I believe such would even fit with the Common Core Standards!

The students measured heights, widths, and volumes...pulling their hamburgers apart to gather data. Then, they often made up their own problems to explore. Below are the results from one middle grades group in the Seattle area:

  • At that time, McDonald's motto was: "50,000,000,000 served"
  • Assume 1 hamburger/service
  • Height/thickness (bun and hamburger) was 1 3/4 inches
  • Piled in stack, the hamburgers would reach earth to moon 3.3 times
  • They would form a belt around earth's equator about 50 feet wide
  • One could use them to build a 42-lane interstate highway from Seattle to New York City (420 feet wide)
  • As an area (with hamburgers squeezed into square shape...i.e. squaring the circle!), the hamburgers cover about 1030 square miles, enough to cover Seattle 8.4 feet deep in hamburgers
  • If stacked on a baseball diamond, the pile would be 70 miles high
  • The mustard used was enough to fill 936 railroad tank cars
  • The catsup was enough to paint the ground surface of Seattle 47 times
  • The associated number of pickles could become a 58-foot high wall across widest part of Puget Sound (about 40 miles)
The students had fun....and I confess to not having included all of their "creative" responses.

What more constructive explorations can be done in this same vein today...ala Fermi problems of a sort?