In a subject where connections are so important for understanding, the topic of measures provides rich opportunities for applying knowledge of other areas in context. Make sure to emphasise the importance of being able to use measures accurately in real life, and visitors can help with this...
If you want to emphasise the importance of accurate measuring, inviting parents or other people into the classroom who use measurements in their work can change pupils' views quite dramatically. We tried this by inviting a nurse (who was a parent of a pupil in the school) into the classroom to take part in a measurement workshop. Her explanations of why it was crucial that she was able to weigh people accurately in order to give the correct dose of medicine to very ill patients really hit home, particularly when she explained the potential consequences of getting it wrong.
Apart from parents, other potential visitors who use measurement in their jobs could include relatives of school staff, governors, volunteers from local firms and even teachers who have moved into teaching after a previous career.
Make sure that pupils have some idea of the measurements of certain standard items such as a bag of pasta or rice, a purchased water bottle and the length and width of a desk or exercise book. These can then be used for comparison when asked to estimate less familiar items.
Pupils (and adults) often struggle with having a feel for longer distances that cannot be seen. In this case, find measurements with which they are familiar, such as the 100m athletics track on the school field, the length of the netball court or even a distance that they travel regularly, such as the distance between school and the swimming pool for weekly swimming lessons.
Since measures is a great topic for linking maths to real life, are there projects in school such as painting a floor, redesigning a play area or purchasing new carpet which could be used as longer tasks for pupils where they could undertake the design and costings? Also, don't forget school trips where pupils can plan out the timetable for the day after looking at timetables or travel times. They can also investigate costs and then compare these; pupils love to have a sense of ownership over their activities and it will be good preparation for when they are planning independent activities when they are older. While working in a church school, some pupils worked out how much wine would need to be purchased, by the local priest, for Sunday services...
In order to get a feel for measures, pupils need lots of practice: completing a worksheet may be fine for consolidation but pupils are less likely to retain knowledge of units, relationships or how to read a scale without lots of opportunity to actually measure items.
Rulers are inconsistent: some have inches as a second scale, some have a space before zero, some have no space before zero, some are bendy so do not sit flat on the page (these should be banned!) It is not surprising therefore that pupils can have difficulties measuring lengths. Some of the most common are: measuring from the end rather than zero, measuring from 1cm because we count from 1; using the wrong scale (mm / cm / inches); measuring from the wrong end (from 30cm). Much practice is needed here so get pupils measuring regularly, not just when the two week measuring unit is scheduled.
Pupils can be surprised when asked to measure the perimeter (circumference) of a circle or a distance on a map, so give pupils string so that they can measure lengths which are not straight. Maps also provide a great opportunity to combine measures with ratio when using the scale to work out the actual distance.
Weighing ingredients when preparing to cook is usually a popular activity which can be given as a task to do at home if it is not feasible in school. However, in school pupils can estimate the weights of items and then compare this to the actual measure so that they have examples of what a range of objects weigh.
This area of measures is often best introduced outside so that pupils can actually fill various containers with water after estimating how much they will hold. Lots of pupils now bring bottles of water to school and this is a useful comparison item since two or three (approximately) of these is equal to a litre.
Cross Curricular Applications
It is worth looking for opportunities to apply measures in other subjects since this is a rich area for work across the curriculum.
Design relies on effective measuring and the use of scale drawings so there are plenty of opportunities here for pupils to make use of their measuring skills.
Interpreting and using map scales are useful skills for pupils.
Athletics is a brilliant activity for applying measures. Timing races of various lengths, measuring how far pupils can throw pieces of equipment, or how far pupils can jump in long jump, are all great ways to collect data which can then be used back in the classroom. Speeds can be worked out and then compared with various animal running speeds.
When teaching instructions in English, pupils can be asked to create instructions for creating a paper aeroplane. These can then be flown on the playground and the distances reached can be compared to see which are the most effective designs.
These activities have resulted in some of the most prolific and spontaneous positive feedback received from parents. Pupils work in groups and compete to make the most profit when designing and making something such as Christmas tags or Easter biscuits. They also need to work out what will sell well, design the packaging and pay for all the resources that they need. Parents commented on the enthusiasm and time that pupils were prepared to expend at home in discussion and thinking about the project even when it had not been given as a homework task.
Being able to convert between different units of measures is a requirement of the UK curriculum so demonstrate the use of relationship (ratio) tables where pupils can see the pattern and have better understanding when converting between metric and imperial measurements.
This reduces the need to remember since only the basic relationships are needed and when converting between metric measures this can be assisted by focusing on the meaning of the prefixes centi and milli...