Why Does Measurement Matter?

There are a host of reasons to bring measurement activities into the classroom. Measurement is one of the most practical ways in which mathematics is used in the "real world." Measurement matters, primarily because human activities from commerce, to construction, to transportation, to scientific research, and even artistic expression depend on it. To expand just one of these areas as an example, consider commerce. A buyer and a seller of any product are each motivated to make the best trade possible, but their perspectives are in opposition. The buyer wants to get the most value for his money; the seller wants to get the most money for his product. Whenever a commodity is being bought and sold according to units, the buyer wants the purchased units to be as large as possible while the seller wants them to be as small as possible. To give a humorous example, I have a friend who found a way to get more than his money's worth at a local salad bar. The price at this salad bar was for one full plate, but it did not allow return trips. My friend put some salad in the bottom of his plate to fill it to a level even with the edge of the plate. Then he lined the entire perimeter of the plate with cucumber slices! This expanded the available diameter considerably, and he was then able to pile enormous amounts of salad on top of the cucumber-expanded plate! This humorous example illustrates the point that measurement matters in commerce because people are motivated to make the best deal they can, whether they are buyers or sellers, and each has a different reason to want to "fudge" on the measurements.

Aside from its enormous application potential, measurement is a topic that lends itself to integration of several different subject areas in school. Measurement activities can legitimately be considered to be a part of mathematics, social studies, science, and even art and music. With instructional time at a premium, any time teachers can teach multiple subjects in a single lesson it is a winning combination. Measurement lessons enable us to do this.

Further enhance your math curriculum with more Professional Development Resources for Teaching Measurement, Grades K-5.

Elementary Mathematics: Pedagogical Content Knowledge, by James E. Schwartz, is designed to sharpen pre-service and in-service teachers' mathematics pedagogical content knowledge. The five "powerful ideas" (composition, decomposition, relationships, representation, and context) provide an organizing framework and highlight the interconnections between mathematics topics. In addition, the text thoroughly integrates discussion of the five NCTM process strands.


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