By Kees Buys, Ed de Moor
(A part of writing in Domain Description Measurement from book “Young Children Learn Measurement and Geometry”, published by Freudhental institute, Utrecht University, the Netherlands, 2005)
Educational activities in the domain of measurement are sometimes accompanied by complications resulting from working with all kinds of separate materials. This mainly concerns the objects to be measured, as well as the devices and measuring instruments that are used. Working with these materials can create a messy environment in the classroom, in which it is not always easy for teachers to maintain good oversight and make sure everybody stays involved in the activities. One result of this is that teachers (and textbook authors) are sometimes tempted to pass on the real measuring activities and to limit themselves to a minimal introduction of the main standard measures, followed by paper activities, in which the main purpose is to shift from one type of measure into another. How many centimeters are there in a meter? How many grams in a kilogram? And so forth.
Obviously, it is quite understandable that teachers want to remain in control of the classroom, and will, in many cases, choose a simple approach to activities. On the other hand, partly or totally skipping real measuring activities raises strong objections, because it diminishes the essence of the learning experiences that students can obtain through measuring. Perhaps even more strongly than in other domains of mathematics education, the principle applies that the child’s own discoveries and the children’s self-gained insights are of extreme value. Thinking up handy comparison strategies by themselves, investigating together how to measure through pacing off with a meterstick, and reflecting on the hows and whys of measuring instruments with the entire class, for example with the measuring jug, the ruler and the letter scale-this is still what it comes down to primarily. This is the foundation that gives sense and meaning to the later shifting from one measure type to another and to calculating and reasoning with measures. A firm and coherent organization of education is essential in this process. Gathering the needed materials beforehand and reflecting on the activity can be extremely helpful in this.
In this context, one can answer questions like:
– Exactly which materials are needed?
– In which amounts should these be present, in order for everybody to remain active?
– Would it be preferable to perform the measuring activities with the entire class, or is it better to have the children working in groups?
– In the latter case: is it preferable to have a kind of task division, in which every child knows what his/her task is?
– In what way do the children write down the results of their measurements?
– What should children do when they finish their measurements early?
– How might a follow up, whole-class discussion take place?
Of course, it is impossible to organize extensive measuring activities on a regular basis. It would require so much preparation and organization that the other lessons could possibly suffer from it. But organizing these activities from time to time is essential for proper measurement education. One measuring activity, actually carried out and collectively discussed, can induce more than ten measuring problems on paper. And the children’s enthusiasm is often so great, that a certain level of loud busyness will be lovingly accepted.