Lumberjack Math Introduction


This lesson takes your students through math calculations required while working in a logging camp’s cook shack. They will need to convert recipes to accommodate the number of lumberjacks in the camp, and order enough supplies to keep the camp running, and the men fed. Students will realize that there is a lot of math in breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Essential Questions

  1. How much food does a logging camp consume in a day?
  2. How do you decide how much food to buy without being wasteful?


Upon successful completion of this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Calculate the required amount of foodstuffs needed to accommodate a logging camp’s menu.
  2. Convert food amounts from smaller to larger portions.
  3. Determine how much food and supplies to purchase to accommodate the needs of the logging camp.

Time Needed

Two class periods


Cook-shack videos

Helping the Cook (optional lesson extension activities)


The cook was one of the most important positions in the logging camp. The cook and his or her assistants, called cookees, made certain that the jacks had enough to eat in order to keep their energy up while “logging” long hours in the woods. Most jacks need between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day, and it was up to the cook and the cookees to make sure they got it. While the cook had to keep an eye on the camp’s bottom line and not spend too much on food, the cook also had to make sure to keep the jacks reasonably satisfied with their meals. The foreman knew that a bad cook could sink a camp—many jacks would leave if the cook was a “Belly Robber!”

The cook was the second highest paid employee in the camp, and earned $50 per month. The cookees each earned $25 per month. The job was demanding, and it was essential for the cook and cookees to be up well before “daylight in the swamp” to prepare the jacks’ breakfast. Next they prepared a noon-time meal and delivered it to the jacks at the cut. Finally, they prepared a third meal after the lumberjacks returned from a day’s work.

Time was money in a logging camp, and the cook ruled the cook shack with an iron fist. There was no time to waste, even during meals, so jacks were not allowed to talk except to ask for more food.

In many camps, the company purchased most of the food at the beginning of the season, and kept it in a storehouse in a nearby town. Every two weeks during the season, the tote sleigh brought supplies from the warehouse to the individual camps. For the purpose of this activity, we have amended this common practice a bit to allow your students to figure out prices and calculate increases in supply.


Belly robber: A bad logging camp cook

Cook shack: Building in the logging camp where the lumberjacks would eat, and where the cook and cookees worked and lived

Flunky: Cookee, the cook’s assistant

Green: Short for “greenhorn,” which is someone who is new to the logging camp and industry

Logging berries: Prunes

Sawbelly: Bacon

Sinkers or cold shuts: Doughnuts

Spuds: Potatoes

Swamp water: Tea

Sweat pads with blackstrap: Pancakes with molasses

Tote sleigh: The transportation used to travel from logging camp to town. It would visit the camp about twice a month, carrying supplies for the cook shack, camp office, and other buildings. On the return trip, it would carry mail and possibly an injured lumberjack back to town.


The cook shacks were similar from camp to camp, so these worksheets are not divided by camp, as the others have been. You can decide if students will complete these worksheets in camp groups, individually, or in different groups.

1. At the start of class, watch the first cook video, Recipe Conversion, which introduces the cook shack, vocabulary, and the first worksheet.

Transcript | Watch video Recipe Conversion on YouTube

2. In groups or as individuals, have the students complete the first worksheet, What’s for Breakfast? They will be asked to convert a recipe that feeds one person into a recipe that will feed 70 lumberjacks.

  • Remind students that they may need to convert the food amounts from smaller to larger measurement units as the amount of food needed increases.
  • Tell the students these are average amounts of food.

3. As a class, watch the second video, Food for Two Weeks. This video segment introduces the next two worksheets.

Transcript | Watch video Food for Two Weeks on YouTube

4. Have students complete the next two worksheets, All Meal Supplies, and More Men in Camp. This last worksheet has students figuring out how much more food is needed if 10 men are added to the camp, and the corresponding increase in food costs.

  • Remind your students that the worksheets are related, and that information from one may be required to complete the next. Students will also need to pay close attention to the units of measurement as they make conversions and read tables.
  • Interpreting remainders is an essential idea in deciding what to order. The amount of decision-making in the third worksheet escalates significantly. The biggest mathematical challenge is not necessarily the arithmetic, but the need to organize data, and to make informed decisions. The interpretation of the numbers determines the final decision in what to order. Plan for a lot of discussion to process and develop this reasoning capacity.

5. As a class, watch the third video praising the students work, Congratulations.

Transcript | Watch video Congratulations on YouTube

Lesson Extensions

(see student worksheet, Helping the Cook):

Students who finish early can pick one of the activities on the Helping the Cook worksheet. Encourage them to work with one or two other students to prepare a short presentation for the class.

Choices include:

  • Compare money amounts written using “cents” to the same amounts written using a $ and decimal point, such as “$0.08 can also be written as 8 cents.”
  • Use a calculator to compare exact answers when finding the cost of food per day in two different ways. Decide if the difference is significant or not.
  • Use an online inflation calculator to find the cost to feed one lumberjack for one day in today’s dollars.
  • Find a recipe, and convert ingredient amounts to feed the entire class. Then convert the ingredient amounts to feed the entire school.
  • Find local prices for the recipe ingredients. Then use those prices to calculate the total cost to feed the class, and to feed the school.