Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Measurement Adventure

Let me start with the bottom line: We need to teach our students measurement! Yes, the metric system would be easier but right now, we don’t use the metric system so don’t ignore what we do use. Teach it! No, don’t just teach it. Teach it and have students apply their knowledge and use it. I remember teaching a unit of it and that was it. Then we never looked at measurement again. Like a foreign language, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Please, I beg you, teach it and have students use it every day.

Okay, now to explain my desperate plea. The other day I bought chains to hang my hanging plants from hooks in my porch. I found white plastic chains that were 61 cents per foot. I needed six chains and each chain needed to be 18 inches. Simple, right? Wrong! The young man that came to help me looked at me blankly when I said 18 inches. He looked at the measurement tape on the floor and said, “Hmmm, it doesn’t have 18 inches here.” I finally had to tell him that it was a foot and a half and showed him where it was on the tape. There was 17 links in the first chain and I suggested that we could count the links for the other chains so they could be the same size. He insisted that it was easier for him to measure it so away he went “measuring.” The next chain was 15 links and I told him that it wouldn’t work. So, then he decided that he better count the links. Okay, now we finally have six chains that were 17 links each. He could not figure out how to determine the price for the total. I had to tell him that the 6 chains equaled 9 feet in length and all he had to do was multiply 9 feet by 61 cents. He was very impressed with my skills! (Skills? I thought it was basic math!)

I really believe that you can incorporate math word problems in any subject area that you teach. Use them as bonuses on quizzes or tests. Use them as bell ringers when they arrive in your class. It involves reading so that should cover English and Language Arts. The math aspect is obvious. For Social Studies, use measurement with geography; figure out the heights of famous people in inches, figure out the cost of something bought during a certain time period, etc. For Science, use measurements with lab work. Measure a text book or some kind of object every day!

I worry about our students when they can’t figure out how to give change or to use simple measurements in life. They don’t realize these are important skills and I’m not sure that teachers are instilling this in their minds. All we seem to do is recognize it as a standard that we have to teach and then we teach the unit as if it is a stand-alone object. Once taught, we move on to something else and never look back. We need to show our students that basic skills are important and necessary in our everyday lives in order to be successful.

Here are some interesting sites I found to teach measurement:
Teachnology: Measurement Themes
Illuminations: Measurement
Math Investigations

Original image: 'Tape Measure' http://www.flickr.com/photos/36045027@N00/2327889692 by: Darren Hester


Kobus van Wyk said...

Sometimes we assume that when we've taught something, the application should be clear. WRONG! Even the simplest things are not obvious to many learners.

Your curtain episode reminds me of a recent incident: four of us wanted to take a short boat trip to watch the whales. The tickets were R40 each; the guy at the ticket office took out his electronic calculator to help him work out how much I had to pay. I did not have the courage to tell him that, as a senior citizen, I qualify for a 10% discount!

Kila said...

Oh my gosh, that is scary. But it doesn't surprise me. Today's kids don't seem at all prepared or educated enough to survive on their own. What I see and hear at our public junior high is truly scary... and we are supposed to be one of the better schools!

Regarding measurement, I think it would be great to teach our students both metric and our current American way.

loonyhiker said...

@Kobus I loved your story. I could just picture you teaching a mini lesson right there on how to figure out 10% discounts! LOL

loonyhiker said...

@Kila I know I have taught both systems but after those units, I don't think we even focused on measurement any more.