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Measuring Up, by Donna B. Faircloth

Once they hit fifth grade, your students' height can skyrocket in the course of a year – here's a fun lesson using measurements to see how quickly they grow

Flowers and yard stick

Recently, I was struck with the inspiration for a series of math lessons for my fifth graders as I walked through the doors of a convenience store. A measuring chart on either side of the exit was an observation tool for the clerks in the event of a robbery. As I left the store, I was aware that anyone could easily observe my height, all 5'2' of me. Since measurement of common objects is a state standard for my students, I knew they could learn a life lesson if I transferred this tool to the classroom.

Getting started. First, my students and I decided to use yellow bulletin board paper to create two vertical number lines at opposite ends of my classroom. Carefully, using yardsticks held perpendicular to the floor, the students worked in small groups to mark the paper from the floor to the ceiling in foot increments. Natural cooperation took place as the taller children were handed the yardstick in order to make the higher marks. Then the yardsticks changed hands again as different children marked the inch increments. We chose not to mark anything smaller. The children were very proud of their "giant rulers" and began to measure each other without any prompting from me. Those students who had difficulty measuring were coached by the child next to him or her in a natural peer tutoring situation. I also asked two students to record the measurements in their respective notebooks at each end of the room. Soon every child in the room knew his or her height to the nearest inch.

Recording the data. As a veteran teacher, I knew that math students often find difficulty when converting measurements. For the next day's lesson, I designed a chart that we would use to record the height of each child. I also wrote the formula for converting from feet to inches on the sheet and the board. Together, the students and I converted the numbers for the first four students alphabetically. Next, in small pods of 4-5 students, the children figured the remaining conversions. One member of each group used a calculator to check the pod's answers. A captain for each pod read the figures to the class, and each member of the class recorded the data on his or her chart as I recorded the information on an overhead transparency.

Average height. For the next assignment, we totaled the height in inches for the 20 students in the classroom. We divided the sum by 20 and found the mean (average) height of the class. I took the opportunity to tie the lesson to one we had learned previously that used the measures of central tendency in statistics. Reminding the students of median, mode and range, I asked each group to rank the numbers from least to greatest so that we could find the median and the range. We remembered a lesson on stem and leaf charts and quickly drew one to determine the mode. For homework, I asked the students to find five things in their home environment that were approximately (within three inches) their height.

Clusters of numbers. Several weeks later, we found an investigation using frequency tables in our math textbook. We recycled our data of heights to look for clusters of numbers to form five periods on the table and designed a frequency table with the information. Throughout the series of lessons, the children had measured and recorded data, converted measurements, conducted statistical analysis, integrated technology, designed two types of charts and worked cooperatively – all while they had fun and learned concepts that applied directly to their lives.

Growing up. I left the "rulers" on the wall for the remainder of the year. Often during break or transition times throughout the day, I would notice children from other homerooms being measured by a classmate using the rulers. It was quite a popular activity and a terrific conversation starter. The rulers were also a source of great information. One day, several eighth-grade boys rolled a borrowed television into my classroom on a cart. The boys, all friends of my son, had grown a good bit since the first of the year. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked them in turn to put their heels to the wall and be measured. I was not at all surprised to find that, just like my son who had suddenly sprouted up to 5'10" (I mean, 70 inches), they were all growing up!

Vertical leaps. Growing is inevitable for fifth graders, too. Just before the Christmas break, we measured all the children again to look for gains. Sure enough, no one had shrunk! In two months time, those young bodies had made vertical leaps on our chart. By the end of the school year, the changes were obvious to the naked eye, but we backed everyone against the wall one more time, anyway. Everyone in the fifth grade had grown an average of two inches. Everyone but me, of course – I'm still hoping to reach 5'6".

Topic: Measurement

  1. Internet 4 Classrooms: Extensive listing of interactive Internet resources for the math content area divided by grade level, K-8. Online testing is also available.

  2. A Tour of Measurement: Measurement resources compiled in a math unit with detailed lessons, teacher resources and student resources for all things measured.

  3. National Library of Virtual Manipulatives: Excellent interactive resource with lessons and activities categorized by grade and topic.

Donna B. Faircloth has been teaching for 23 years. She teaches at Baconton Charter School in Mitchell County, GA.