Teaching Measurement

› Measurement

You can be great at teaching measurement!  All it takes is understanding where kids are at developmentally along with the perfect activities and lessons. 

We measure every day. This is done by filling, covering, matching, and using instruments such as rulers and scales. 

It's painfully obvious that many of our students do not know how to select and use appropriate units, tools and technology for measuring in math. So it is more important than ever that we move away from worksheets and lectures and begin to use kinesthetic approaches to teaching kids measurement.

These activities give children an opportunity to apply mathematical concepts to other disciplines and develop foundational skills for geometry.

Learning measurement with a rulerTeaching Measurement
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At first, primary students have to learn to measure concretely.

This gives them an opportunity to work with abstract mathematical quantities and communicate math ideas in their everyday language.

After children deeply understand concrete experiences, they are ready for further investigations.

Why Is Teaching Measurement Important?

Measurement covers everything from occupational skills and tasks to life skills.

We also estimate measures in daily life. This is a very difficult concept for young children.

Estimation means we focus on the "about" of quantities. Using words like closer to, more or less than, and about in daily activities helps to build foundations for what is a reasonable range of answers.

Research by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000) shows that teachers need to:

  • Help students understand that objects have measurable properties
  • Help students understand expressions referring to properties (i.e. "How long?" and "How heavy?")
  • Help students understand and use terms of comparison (longer, heavier, shorter, wider)
  • Help students use appropriate units and processes for measurement
  • Help students use standard units of measurement
  • Help students create and use formulas to help count units

Ideas for Teaching Measurement

1. Movement Estimation
Ask the students to estimate how many times they can do a particular movement, such as snapping their fingers, jumping in place, etc. in one minute. Record their estimates, then time them doing their movement for 15 seconds.

Repeat this activity four times, recording the results each time. Add the results together and compare what their initial estimates were to their actual scores.

This leads to great class discussions about mathematical thinking and ideas.

2. One-Handed Clock
Many students struggle with how to tell time. Often it is a case of not understanding how our "clock language" is related to the hours and minutes.

Have the students make a one-handed analog clock with only an hour hand. Begin by practicing with them how to tell time by approximation simply by where the hour hand is. For example, "It's about 7 o'clock," "It's about half-past 7," "It's about quarter till 10."

Once students have mastered telling time with the one-handed clock, begin teaching measurement of time with the two-handed clock.

Recommended literature connection: Telling Time with Big Mama Cat

3. Community Map
Place a map of your community on the wall. Have each student identify where they live and cut a piece of string for the length from school to their home. Next, ask them to estimate who lives closest and who lives the farthest. Have them measure the strings with paperclips, cubes, pencils - offer multiple items.

Compare the results from the different measuring tools. This activity will reinforce the concept that although results may vary according to the tool used, the actual distance does not change.

For an extension, you could make class bar graphs showing the data for each measuring tool used.

4. Measure Me
Place students into pairs. Give each pair a tray of inter-locking cubes. The students take turns measuring how many cubes tall their partner is. Compare the results by lining up from tallest to shortest and see if they are the same.

Recommended literature connection: How Big Is a Foot?

5. Yes and No
Using a balance scale, mark one side with a "Yes" and the other side with a "No." Give the students 2 items and identify one as the target item and the other as the comparison item. Students guess which item is heavier. They record their guesses, weigh the two items, and decide if they are right or wrong more often. Continue with the activity for as long as you like.

This is a good opportunity to have a mathematical discussion about what influences guessing and how they can develop methods to improve their estimation skills.

6. Ring Goes the Bell!
Hand out a recording sheet with 10-12 blank clock faces. Set a timer to go off at various times. When the bell rings, the students should record the time on the sheet. This could be extended by recording both the analog and digital time, then analyzing the elapsed time between rings.

Recommended literature connection: Every Minute On Earth

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