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First Things First
Students need to understand why standard units of measurement are important.
Give them a few examples (this works better if you use props):
1. Let’s suppose you are sick and the doctor gives you liquid medicine. You have to take it three times a day. For the first dose, you take a coffee cup full of medicine. For the second dose you take it in a baby spoon. For the third dose you take a drop from a dropper. What do you think would happen?
2. You need a desk in your room to have a place to do your homework. The desk needs to fit in a small space under the window. You measure the length of the space with your new pencil and get 9. You measure it again with a paper clip and get 63 and you measure it again with a big stick and get 2. How will you know what size the desk should be?
3. The principal needs to put new tile/carpet down in the classroom. He needs to know how long the room is. Have three different students measure by walking from one end of the room to the other end. The rest of the class can count as the steps are taken. Have one student take baby steps, one take normal steps and one take giant steps. What length is the room and what should we tell the principal?
To cause fewer problems and measure accurately, units were standardized. To measure length we use inches, feet, yards and miles. In the metric system we use centimeters, meters and kilometers.
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Does Anyone Measure at Work?
As homework, ask your students to find out if any of their adult family members use a form of measurement on the job. They may list pharmacists, doctors, factory workers, bakers, teachers, secretaries, builders and the list goes on. This makes math relevant to students.
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I cannot stress enough that every teacher has to be flexible enough to take advantage of teachable moments. Sometimes it pays to digress and veer off from your lesson plan. For example: My father sent my students a postcard from Florida that had an alligator on it. He told them that a man opened up his store one morning to find a thirteen-foot alligator in his store. I told my students that I wanted to see how long the alligator would look. So we laid out thirteen rulers end-to-end and stood back to imagine that alligator. Whoa. That left an impression.
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Move the furniture out of the way. Line up four students behind a line on the floor.
- Have students take one jump as far as they can. Measure how far they jumped from the line.
- Have the students get down on their knees and roll matchbox cars. Measure how far each of the cars rolled.
- Have each student wad up a hand full of cotton balls and throw them as far as they can. The cotton balls will come apart. Measure how far the furthest cotton ball went.
- Measure the classroom. Have students estimate first. Write a few guesses on the board. Were the guesses way off or based on prior knowledge? Did they measure a tile and count the tiles to figure out how long the room should be?
- Measure each other. Measure arm length, height, foot or hand.
- Playground measurement: Measure the distance of the swing seat to the ground. Measure the space between rungs on the ladder. Measure how you can throw a beanbag.
- Put students in small groups. Have each group look up an assigned animal (giraffe, ostrich, black bear, penguin, great white shark, etc.) to find height or length. Then each group should measure and mark their animal’s dimensions in masking tape on the classroom floor, cafeteria floor or playground.
- Use a 12" x 18" white/manila sheet of construction paper. Put a list of things on the board that the students should draw on the paper using their rulers.
- Draw a 4" square
- Draw a rectangle with 2" sides by 5" sides
- Draw a triangle with two 3"sides
- Draw a rectangle with 3 ½" sides by 6" sides
- Decorate each figure in some way
- Move the furniture out of the way. Line up four students behind a line on the floor.
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Do You Measure Up?
Your students will enjoy activities for teaching unit of length measurement because they are hands-on and get them out of their seats. Reinforce the idea that many people need to measure things in their jobs. Seize the opportunity to use teachable moments to practice measuring skills.
- Ideas come from the author's twenty-five years of teaching in elementary school settings.