Measure, measure, measure......

When it comes to maths many of us automatically think of numbers and don't always consider the other parts that make up the whole subject. Measure is a huge part of learning mathematics; it needs knowledge and understanding of numbers to be able to measure and then you need to be able to manipulate those numbers to complete measurement calculations.

Over the years I have found the best way of teaching measure is to get out and do some practical work on it. There is only so much theory that you can go over with the children. What they actually need is practical practice in real life situations.

Therefore I thought for this weeks activity I would set you all measuring and doing one of my favourite classroom activities.

You will need:
ruler / tape measure
post it notes
pen / pencil

Once you have the above things ready it's easy. You and your child need to go round the house and measure as many things as you can with the ruler / tape measure. Once you have measured something the measurement needs to be written on a post-it and the post-it stuck on the item.

For example: You might decide to measure the height of the toaster. Write that measurement on the post-it and stick it to the toaster.

Once this gets going there are two ways you can follow this activity through.
1. You can either let your child go mad and post-it everything first and then do some discussion work after.
2. Or you can discuss each measurement as the post-it goes up.

Generally I do number 1 as children love the whole post-it activity and need time to just have some fun with it.

Once you're ready for the discussion part here's how it works:

Most importantly with these little ones you want to be using a very basic measure that just has single numbers and no millimeters or fractions of inches. We have a very simple learning resources one that we use.

With pre-schoolers you are simply introducing the idea of measuring to them, encouraging them to start measuring at the beginning of the tape / ruler and recognising and writing numbers. This can be lots of fun, as for the main you are going to be playing with the tape measure. If I was doing this with my daughter I would really be focusing on the measuring and reading the tape measure and let the writing on the post-its take a secondary role. This may mean that what is on the post-it does not really resemble a number but they've had a go which is sometimes just as important.

5, 6, 7 year olds
Again, with these children I would stick to a simple tape measure that works with single digits and no fractions of units. They hopefully now understand the basic principles of measuring and have a good knowledge of reading and writing numbers. The main focus with these children is to really start to understand measure and what it means. So as well as measuring objects and recording this, a really good focus is to compare what you are measuring. As you go around the house pick an object and encourage your child to find another object in the house, that they have already measured, that is longer / shorter than the original object. Talk about why this is so and possibly bring the objects together to physically compare them. Once you've done this and if you're child is confident with these comparisons you could introduce the idea of predicting and ask your child to find an object they THINK is longer or shorter than a particular object.

7, 8, 9 year olds
I would encourage these children to use a ruler with the basic units on but showing the fractions of units too. Something like this for UK children:
and this for American children:

This was my favourite age for this activity as these children are really starting to grasp measure and how it works and I was able to move them onto the next step and look at changing the units they were working with. So, the first thing they would do would be to measure in their basic unit (cm or inches) and maybe do a little bit of comparison of objects discussion to ensure their understanding. Once this is done the next thing to do would be to get them to go round and write on each post-it the same measurement but in a different unit. So, if the original is in cm they could write the conversion in mm or if they have originally used inches they could then use cm. Please let them use their rulers to help with the conversions and not expect them to do this in their heads. It can be a difficult concept to understand. After the conversions have been done use this as a discussion point and talk about the different units, how they compare and how the conversions were done - particularly cm to mm.

9, 10, 11 year olds
These children again need to be encouraged to use the rulers mentioned for the 7, 8, and 9 year olds.

You will find that, hopefully, these children have secure knowledge of measure but are still a little confused on changing from one unit to the next. Follow the above activity but I would encourage all children to work in metric units and to write three measurements in total on their paper. Can they write it in cm, mm and m? This is tricky and they may well need a ruler / tape measure or meter stick to help but it is really good to help them understand how to convert the units and to realise that different things need to be measured using different units and equipment. When your child is doing the conversions I find the best way is to let them work it out for themselves using the equipment and possibly some help but once it is done talk about other ways you could do the calculations ie. multiplying and dividing by 10.

A few final words

I loved doing this activity in class as we had lots of fun practicing measuring and working together and discussing what we were doing. Please don't measure every item in your house and then do the follow up with every single item. You will find that initially for that first measurement there will be lots of post-it notes but then attention and concentration of your child will not last to convert / discuss them all. You don't need to. Follow your instincts and stop before it becomes a chore and boring. This activity is supposed to be fun and not leave a lasting memory of boredom!

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