Thursday, September 20, 2012

Project Idea: What If You Lived in the World's Skinniest House?

When I read about the world's skinniest house, a 47-inch wide building wedged between two big buildings in Warsaw, Poland, all I could think about is what I would be able to fit in there.  As a restless soul who has moved a dozen times in the last decade (including three times across the country) I have whittled down my belongings to a comfortable minimum over the years, so I probably could fit more than most.

Still, I had to visualize what 47 inches really looked like, which lead to countless questions: Could my bathtub fit in there? My kitchen table?  My bed?  (Answers: Yes / Yes, barely / Not unless you have a chainsaw handy).  Even if I could squeeze many things in there, how much room would I need to actually move around?  How wide am I?  Do I really want to be walking like an Egyptian at home all the time?

Of course, these are all math questions: measurement, scale, spatial reasoning and most importantly problem solving.  This would make a very thought provoking project for math students from grade 3 and up. 

Show the images to your students and have them answer a series of questions that will unlock more and more exploration:
  1. What does 47 inches actually look like?  How many feet is that?
  2. How much space do you need to move around?  How wide is your body?  How wide is your body if you turn sideways? 
  3. What items from the classroom could we fit in this house?
  4. If we wanted to move as much as possible from the classroom into the house, how much of it could we take?
  5. What would we be able to take if we still wanted to be able to move around the house (think about your answer to #2)?
  6. What items would have to be left behind?
Get some meter sticks and tape measures out and have them go at it.  Remember that they should be thinking in three dimensions, not just one or two.  Later, you can send your students home with a similar set of questions:
  1. What items would I be able to take from my own room (remembering how much space you need to move around)?
  2. What furniture and appliances from the bathroom, kitchen and other rooms in the house would be able to fit?  What would you have to leave behind or replace?
At the high school level, you could have students create a scale drawing of each floor of their 47 inch wide house with a floor plan of their stuff and how it would fit.  They would have to label where you would sleep, eat, sit, bathe, etc.  Elementary and middle school students could design and draw their own skinny house to illustrate all the things they discovered when measuring to see what items might fit (you might even give them a template or graphic organizer to fill out).

The real beauty of this project is that you would be able to incorporate writing at all grade levels (rewording these questions appropriately):
  1. Would you want to live in this house?
  2. If you did move into this house, what things do you have that you couldn't live without?  Would they fit?  If not, what would you do?  What would you be willing to leave behind? 
  3. What is the smallest space you would be willing to live in?
  4. What changes would you make to this house to make it better?
What else could you do with this?  Have you created, used or read about similar projects?  Share your ideas and resources in the comments.