Fastest Way to a Full Belly!

By Cathy Fox, November 12, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Mathematics

Lesson Time

three 55 minute classes


Every day, each of our students spends time in the school cafeteria. Many days, it is a race to get to the front of the line for our free lunches! Because the lunch periods are so short, it is important that the cafeteria layout is functional.  Students will identify the major problems that occur in the cafeteria and come up with possible solutions for improvement.

National Standards

Mathematics Standard 4: Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement Standard 14: Uses the design process to solve problems  

Common Core Standards

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


In this lesson students will:
  • collect data to identify some problems that occur with the current setup of the school cafeteria
  • understand the different tasks that go on during every lunch period in the cafeteria
  • design a layout for the school cafeteria that is more functional for all students and staff
  • measure dimensions of items placed in cafeteria blueprint and create appropriate scale factors


  • student input on the current status of the school cafeteria
  • internet search engine to look at possible sample layouts
  • blueprints of school cafeteria (to find actual dimensions)


  • pencils
  • rulers
  • drawing paper
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • tape and/or glue


  • scale model: a representation or copy of an object that is larger or smaller than the actual size of the object
  • scale factor: a number used as a multiplier in scaling
  • dimension: a measurement of length, width or depth; two-dimensional art, such as a painting, has length and width; three-dimensional art, such as sculpture, includes depth
  • design: to plan something for a specific role or purpose or effect, or an arrangement scheme


DAY 1: 1.  Ask your students to reflect on their last experience in the school cafeteria.  Have them make a list of pros and cons.  Tell your students that they will be given the opportunity to improve their school cafeteria experience.  Ask them to really observe what goes on in the cafeteria the next time they are there.  Ask them to note how people flow through the space.  Is there a specific place where people get stuck?  While being served, paying, clearing their trays, leaving the space?  Are there specific times during the lunch period when it is busier or slower than others?   How is food served and how many choices are offered?  Do students go through one line and choose what they would like to eat?  Do they go to stations for each option?  Is it served family-style at each table?  How many people bring their lunch?  How are the tables set up?  How do students choose where they sit?  What other activities go on in the cafeteria?  Are some students there to socialize?  Do some like to read or study while they eat? DAY 2: 1.  Students will share results with class.  In groups of three, ask students to identify their top three concerns about the layout of the cafeteria.  After these brief presentations, each group should begin to brainstorm possible solutions to these problems.  Remind them that this is their chance to revolutionize their cafeteria experience.  Groups are encouraged to make any changes to the cafeteria system that they think would make the experience and the space more efficient or useful.  Their only constraints are that the cost of a meal in the cafeteria must be equal to or less than the current amount and they must also use the current dimensions of the cafeteria to design within. 2.  Students will work with their group to make adjustments to the layout to make it more functional. Students will begin by listing all items that must be a part of their layout (i.e. tables, food stations, etc.). Then they may place additional items as they feel necessary. Recorder will create a rough sketch of their new layout. Students will be encouraged to used different types of shapes as they feel necessary (i.e. items need not all be square or rectangular). 3.  Students will be given the actual measurements of the school cafeteria and begin to make decisions about the size of the items they wish to place in the room. The dimensions of the items do NOT need to be the same as the ones currently in the room. (i.e. they may choose to use larger or smaller tables, benches over chairs, etc.) 4.  Once groups have decided on the sizes, shapes, and placements of the various items (i.e. tables, chairs, etc.), they will use a ruler to measure the dimensions of these items. Then groups will come up with an appropriate scale factor to present in their proposal. DAY 3: 1.  Students will be in the same groups and will begin to brainstorm ideas about how they can physically represent their proposed model. All materials will be located in a central location and students may use materials as needed. 2.  For this portion, the focus will be on the new layout and the functionality of their new design. Students will work in groups to put their physical representation together. 3.  Once the models have been finished, each group will give a two to three minute presentation, showing their model and discussing briefly the rational for the items they chose to use and the layout they chose.  Ask each group to articulate what problem they identified and how their design addresses that problem.  Allow time for students to give feedback on their designs.


Teacher observations:
  • Did each group member participate/work together?
  • Did group members take into account all ideas before coming up with proposal they would pursue?
  Other assessments:
  • Physical representation from each group will be assessed for creativity and completeness
  • Group presentations will be evaluated using the attached rubric

Enrichment Extension Activities

When all other portions have been completed, students will be asked to write 2 to 3 paragraphs explaining why they decided to set up the cafeteria in the manner they did. This can address things ranging from better functionality to improving aesthetics. Also, individual students will do a self assessment of how well their groups worked together.

Teacher Reflection

One thing that surprised me about this lesson was that students' opinions on the efficiency of the current set up of the cafeteria were very different. Some students expressed that it was complete chaos, while others didn't feel that there was a problem at all. That being said, many students did a good job on this assignment. I did learn that I need to be extremely specific with expectations because some students were a bit confused on the final product requirements. There were two major things that many students factored into their designs: 1. The tables and chairs are now circular, which takes up a lot of room and 2. The placing of the food/drink lines were overlapping and a much line cutting is occurring Overall, this was a new experience for both myself and my students, but I feel we both learned a lot about the design process. Most importantly, the students were very engaged throughout the entire project.
  1. Our school has a similar fight to the lunch line, as well. I like all of the questions that were provided at the start of the lesson. I would let the students think about the cafeteria experience individually at first, then in pair and then provide the questions listed. This will allow students to take time to think on their own without solely relying on the teachers questions. One other addition may be to take the prototypes to a panel of administrators for feedback and perhaps a new cafeteria design and space.

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