Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It's All in the Decimals

We’ve been studying Measurement of all sorts for the past several weeks, and this week continues the trend. The week before Spring Break, we studied and practiced using a ruler to measure inches and centimeters. We also practiced estimation with other units like millimeters, kilometers, yards, and miles.

Sample question: Which is a better estimate for the width of a stamp? 1 inch, 1 foot, or 1 mile?

Apparently, we have some kids with pretty darn large mailboxes…

Estimating measurement can be a hard concept for these kids to grasp though, as was clearly evidenced in a memorable situation from my first year of teaching (chronicled in my ground breaking novel, of course! ;) ). A little girl asked me, “Mister Teacher, how long are you?”

Since the girl was ESL (English as a Second Language), I assumed that she had misspoken and was merely asking how tall I was. However, when I tried to correct her, she insisted, “No, how LONG are you? How BIG?”

Still giving her the benefit of the doubt, I started to answer, “Six foot four,” but she beat me to the punch with a guess. “Seven inches?” she ventured.

I may never know for sure, but I can only hope that her guess reflected her poor estimation skills of my height and not a more accurate estimate of some other measurement…

THIS week, we are moving on to a few other areas of measurement – capacity, weight, and temperature. Hopefully, the temperature won’t be too bad, because we’ve covered number lines, and a thermometer is really just a number line turned on its side. Guess and check is the mantra there. Sure, some kids only do the FIRST part of that, but we have to keep trying.

Capacity and weight are another matter. Most of these kids have never even heard the word “Pint” before (and thus pronounce it with a short i instead of its long i), and don’t know a Liter from a Meter.

This is not the first year that we have taught capacity in 3rd grade, but it IS the first year that it will be tested on the TAKS. A couple of years ago, I tried Star Wars references to help them remember things – “Use the quarts, Luke!” and “May the fourths be with you!” – but that was it.

Last year, I had the kids look for examples of containers and their capacities at home. A big bottle of Coke holds 3 Liters, a bottle of Hooters Hot Sauce holds 5 fluid ounces, and a thing of Maalox holds 355 mL. Then there were the examples of missing decimal points – 612 gallons of barbecue sauce, 277 gallons of mustard, 118 liters of Mr. Clean. Either they forgot the decimals, or someone owns stock in the wholesale club.
Later this week, we’ll be discussing weight and mass. I’ll be sure to write more about my experiences with tons of feathers and grams of elephants…

1 comment:

Carole said...

"Mister, how long are you?" is a question my husband was asked in an elevator once. The woman, however, looked Hispanic, and English was obviously a second language. He's 6'6". At least he knows for sure what she meant.