Use your noodle! Pasta is a fun way to study geography, math, and history. We have ideas and activities for all grades!
Pasta is a food made from flour, water, and often eggs and flavorings. It can be cooked and eaten immediately, or dried for long storage. It is boiled, rather than baked or fried as bread is. Pasta and bread have much in common, but the ability to store pasta has made it a good option for seafaring or nomadic people.
Start off your study with Everybody Brings Noodles , a fun picture book about a block party to which all the neighbors bring noodles showing their ethnic heritage. The book includes recipes for everything from Italian pasta with pesto to noodle kugel. Older students enjoy being read to, and it’s a quick way to introduce the topic and concept.
Then try out some of our cross curricular activities:
- For your youngest students, fill the Sand Table with noodles, bring in lots of measuring tools, and get plenty of practice with measurement.
- Sort pasta by shape, color, size, or national origin. In fact, pasta is so varied that it makes the perfect example for sorting and thinking about the physical characteristics of objects. Enjoy our PowerPoint on classification using noodles. You can download it for your own use by clicking on the title below, or watch it at YouTube.
- Use the recipes from Everybody Brings Noodles ,or have students bring their favorite pasta recipes from home, and do some math work. Double or halve recipes, measure out the ingredients to create a mise en place, or even actually cook some noodles. There’s a lot of math in cooking. If you’re ambitious, bring in a Pasta Machine and make your own pasta.
- There are said to be about 350 different shapes of pasta in Italy alone. Make it a class project to find as many different shapes of noodles as you can. You can make a Pinterest board of photos, a bulletin board of glued-on noodles, or a service project collecting packages of pasta for your local food bank. As you collect, take time to count, sort, graph, and generally use the noodles for math manipulatives.
- Get advanced with the geometry of pasta. Enjoy a slideshow from George Legendre’s Pasta by Design. Examine the images in the slideshow or the book as examples of three dimensional forms.
- If you’ve never once used macaroni to make collage pictures for your classroom, you should do it now. The more shapes and colors you have available, the more versatility the project will have. This pasta self-portrait is one of our favorite examples.
- Admire an Amazing Pasta Animation from The Geometry of Pasta that uses geometry, typography, and music in innovative ways. Challenge students to use letters and simple shapes to create their own images.
- A simpler project is to have students create a quote from alphabet noodles, using other pasta to add punctuation and perhaps decorate their quotation. We’ve heard from teachers who make centers with a box of alphabet noodles and macaroni and let students use them throughout the year to practice spelling and punctuation.
- Photographer Renato Marcialis has made a name for himself with his pasta photos. Click on his name to see his portfolio. Challenge students to create their own great pasta photos. Use them for a Pinterest board (see the math idea above for the link) or for a great bulletin board display. Read our Kids’ Photo Tips and make this the start of a great lesson on the art of photography. One of Marcialis’s best know works is this map of Italy made of noodles:
- We made the pasta map of Italy at the beginning of this post with Google Earth. You can also make a pasta map of the world. Use Google Earth or Google Maps and give students practice with tech tools they’ll actually use in later life, or make an art project of it. The noodle map of Italy above is one way to do it, but a hand-drawn map with drawings of the various kinds of pasta the world has to offer would be a lot of fun, too.
- There are a lot of different claims about who first made pasta and how the idea traveled from one part of the world to another. China, Greece, and the Arab world are among the many places that have been given credit for coming up with the idea first. However, there are some ideas that are just such good ideas that they come up repeatedly all over the world. The atlatl, weaving, and agriculture are all examples of such ideas; maybe pasta is, too. Pasta is much like bread or porridge in its ingredients, but it can be stored and transported much more easily. Anything that lets people store food for the future increases the flexibility and freedom of the people who have that invention. Challenge students to research and compare the various claims to the first pasta.
- Some say that Marco Polo brought pasta from Asia to Italy. Learn more about Marco Polo:
- The Travels of Marco Polo Lit Trip will show you the places Marco Polo wrote about in his book, now known as The Travels of Marco Polo.
- You can also read it online at Google Books.
- Marco Polo by Demi is a beautifully illustrated book giving basic information about the life and times of Marco Polo. Read it aloud to younger students — or to older ones to make sure everyone has that basic background.
- Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman looks at one of the big questions: did Marco Polo lie about his travels? This is a well written and engaging book that goes into much more detail, and would be suitable for older students.
- Marco Polo for Kids: His Marvelous Journey to China has lots of information, illustrations, and hands-on projects. One of our favorites is the one that involves mixing up a spicy dough and building terra cotta warriors.