Materials to Support Math and Measurement (page 2)
In international comparisons, children in the United States score lower in measurement than in other mathematic standards. Their scores are also lower than their peers’ scores in other countries (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996). Since the roots of learning measurement take place in the early years, it is important that we provide children measurement opportunities (Clements & Stephan, 2004).
In learning about measurement, children go through the following five stages (Copley, 2000; Herbert, 1984). They
- Learn that objects have measurement properties that can be described
- Compare objects using measurement terminology (heavier, shorter, etc.)
- Determine a process and unit to use for measuring different types of items
- Use standard units for measuring such as rulers and yardsticks
- Create and use formulas (Copley, 2000, p. 126)
Measurement is a set of complex skills and concepts that completely develop over a period of many years (Clements & Stephan, 2004). Typically, children are not able to successfully use all measuring tools or to create and use complex formulas until they are in the upper elementary grades. Research indicates that it is best if measurement activities begin with learning about length, developing concepts of “shorter,” “longer,” and “equal in length.” Children should first explore the concept of length through making direct comparisons between objects—for example, deciding which string of pop-together beads is longer by holding them side by side. After children understand length, you can introduce other measurement attributes, including weight, volume, area, time, and temperature.
Help children to learn about comparing properties of items and to use comparison vocabulary through the following materials:
- Items of different sizes to seriate such as nesting dolls to order from smallest to largest.
- Weight canisters to match (these can be created by using black or gray film canisters and placing different items in them). Make these self-correcting by placing identical stickers on the bottom of the canisters that match.
- Several identical jars with different amounts of liquid so children can seriate the jars by volume.
Exploring Measuring Tools
When exploring measuring tools children need to understand the concept of a measurement unit and learn techniques for accurate measurement such as accurate alignment and not leaving gaps when measuring. In the past, it was considered best practice to avoid giving children standard measuring tools such as rulers until they were proficient at measuring using nonstandard measurement tools (measuring with feet, unifix cubes, paper clips). Research now indicates that at any age children benefit from using standard measurement tools (Clements, 2004). If you do use nonstandard measurement items, it is important to use only one type. For example, you would not want to use unifix cubes to measure one day and paper clips to measure the next day. “Research does not support using multiple nonstandard units” for teaching children about measurement (Clements & Stephan, 2004, p. 308). Following are materials that you can add to your math center to enhance measurement skills:
- Variety of measuring tools with several objects and ingredients to measure. For example, provide a household scale, balance scale with weights, and a kitchen scale for measuring weight. Supply measuring cups, quart and gallon jugs, graduated cylinders, and measuring spoons for measuring liquids. Provide a tape measure, ruler, wheel measure, yardstick, and meter stick for measuring length. Make clocks and different types of timers available for exploring the measurement of time. It is important to fully explore each measurement tool before introducing other tools. When children become proficient with the various tools, they can experiment with which measurement tool works best for different objects.
- Pumpkins, gourds, or squash to measure (circumference, weight, length, height). The vegetables can be measured both before and after cooking.
- Heavy strips of cardboard that children can use to make their own rulers.
- Balance scale and a series of oral, written, or pictorial challenges. As children become more proficient, they can create challenges for each other.
- Variety of containers and a bucket of sand. Add tall, thin containers as well as fat, short containers that have the same volume.
- A scale and several similar-sized balls (nerf ball, baseball, softball, plastic ball) that weigh different amounts.
- Measuring box with a variety of measuring tools (tape measure, ruler, folding yardstick, meter stick) that children can use throughout the room when they wish to measure.
- “Beat the clock” games. Provide a timer and direction cards with pictures and words. For example, how many times can you hop before the timer runs out? How many screws and bolts can you put together in one minute?
- Mounted wall clock with a paper clock below it so that children can match the hands (Houle, 1984).
- Stopwatch for elementary age children to use in determining how long it takes to complete common activities (tie your shoe, write your name).
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