I enjoy taking the time to observe different classes, I glean ideas of what I want to do and sometimes see things that spark an idea of my own. One thing that I have seen repeatedly in elementary schools is measuring activities that have no practical application. Usually the child is given a handout with different things to measure with a paper ruler that they cut out. I see this in all measuring areas. Circling measuring cups or coloring them in to the correct amount; cutting out a measuring instrument and measuring things on a paper with it; and I rarely if never see the use of tablespoons, teaspoons, tape measures, scales, or the metric system. This really bothers me because what are children learning from this cutting and coloring of these very useful tools? Where is the interests or excitement? Where is the real life application of these tools?
It would be great if every classroom had several different types of these tools. Rulers, tape measurers, and yard sticks to use for real life measuring activities. Measuring cups, both for dry and wet ingredients, as well as measuring spoons. Scales, to weigh people or large things, to weigh smaller materials and objects, and balance scales to estimate the differences in two materials. Possibly even adding strength-training weights, in two, five, ten, and maybe twenty, pound weights, so children can really feel what these weights feel like and compare them to other things in the room. Wouldn’t that make for an exciting math activity?
I do a lot of “cooking” in the classroom. This is a wonderful way to have real life measuring that kids are very interested in and will be useful for all of their lives. Often my classrooms only had a microwave, but I still did cooking. We would read the recipe, and using measuring spoons and dry and wet measuring cups, take turns counting and putting in the ingredients, then mix it up and cook it. I found a lot of no cook recipes for snacks, but mostly we made play dough every week.
My favorite recipe to use is cooked play dough, we make it weekly, and I always used the cooked play dough method so that I could leave it out on the shelf. For elementary students you may only need to make it monthly. Many teachers just estimate the amounts and allow the children to mix it up, I think that it is better to use the measuring tools because then children get real life experience using them. Here is my Favorite cooked play dough recipe; I got this a couple years ago from The OOEY GOOEY Lady, but have made adjustments and this is a double recipe for a classroom.
In a large microwavable bowl combine 6 cups flour, 3 cups salt, 12 tsp cream of tarter, 12 TBLS oil, 6 cups water (if you want color use 5.75 cups water and .25 cup liquid water color). Mix very well, try to blend until completely mixed and smooth, the more you mix it the better it will feel. Microwave on high 2 minutes at a time, stirring and then cooking more until it forms a ball with no wet parts. This usually takes 8 to 10 minutes. Let it set for a moment out of the bowl, removing any hard parts that got cooked too much, and as soon as it is slightly cool enough hand it out to the children to knead, the more this play dough is kneaded the better and softer it will be. Do not use toys until this play dough is all the way cool, I usually wait until the next day.
The children love touching the hot play dough. I show them how to touch this steaming hot play dough by hitting it softly and quickly with their hands. This way they don’t get burned but they get to feel something that is hot, a rare occurrence in our fearful world. They will spend a lot of time here, with no toys just kneading the warm dough. Remember this strengthens their hand muscles for writing. Doing this on a regular basis is an activity where children will have learned so much about measuring, it provides repetition, and developmentally appropriate skill practice, and children are excited about it.
Providing real activities that link measuring and how it is used in the world is important. The more real life any activity is the more likely children will learn and remember it. Humans are developed for survival; our brain remembers best things that are important, novel, and interesting. It is not useful to our survival to color between the lines, it is important to eat, to have shelter, and to know distances and weights (especially if we have to carry it). When teachers start believing in themselves, take a look at what is in the curriculum and create a real life activity to teach; our students will learn more, and our teachers will have more satisfying jobs.