Exploring Measurement through Literature

By Lubinski, Cheryl A.; Thiessen, Diane | Teaching Children Mathematics, January 1996 | Go to article overview
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Exploring Measurement through Literature


Lubinski, Cheryl A., Thiessen, Diane, Teaching Children Mathematics


This article focuses on how the children's book How Big Is a Foot? (Myller 1990) was used to prompt measurement experiences that reflect ideas embedded in the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM 1989). How Big Is a Foot? concerns a king's decision to surprise his wife, the queen, on her birthday by having a bed made for her. This gift would be a big surprise, since beds had not yet been invented.

This book was used to frame a discussion of children's reasoning about measurement. However, to understand how this experience occurred in one first-grade classroom, we must consider a synopsis of the story.

To determine the size of the bed, the king asked the queen to lie on the floor while he measured her with his big feet [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIG. 1 OMITTED]. He then told the Prime Minister who summoned the Chief Carpenter and commissioned a bed that was to measure three feet wide and six feet long, big enough to fit the queen "including the crown which she sometimes liked to wear to sleep" (Myller 1990, 10).

In his shop, the carpenter's apprentice measured an area three feet by six feet with his little feet and made the bed accordingly.

When Ms. L. read this story to her first-grade class, even the six-year-olds realized the impending problem and were quick to smile at the mistake the apprentice was obviously going to make. They realized that the difference between the size of the king's foot and that of the apprentice's foot created a problem. As the teacher continued reading the story, the children anticipated the outcome.

The bed was delivered to the king, who presented it to his wife. But alas, the bed was not suitable for the queen [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIG. 2 OMITTED]. The apprentice was thrown in jail for displeasing the king and for failing to follow instructions. After much thought, since incarceration can be highly motivating, the apprentice resolved the problem and presented an explanation to the king. A new bed was made, and the apprentice was crowned a royal prince for his efforts.

This story line was the impetus for a discussion of measurement that continued for three weeks. During this time, the teacher was able to develop a learning environment that allowed her to create tasks based on students' thinking. Her intent was to develop children's thinking about linear measurement as being that form of measurement used to identify and count a defined unit in relation to an object's length. She believed that ongoing assessment was needed to ascertain how the children's thinking was developing in relation to her instructional goals.

Before rereading the book the following day, Ms. L. reflected on the following:

* Children's thinking: How will children communicate their understanding of the problems presented in the story?

* Mathematical content: What are the primary mathematical concepts that need to be addressed?

* Additional resources: What materials would help assess students' thinking?

To encourage discourse, she wanted the children to generate a list of questions related to the mathematical problems embedded in the story line. She considered the following to be important:

1. What are the problems in this story? Who had them? What solutions were proposed for them?

2. Is the chief carpenter's role important? How could the chief carpenter have solved the problem?

3. What role did the apprentice play in the story? Could the apprentice have asked the king some questions to avoid the problem?

The children were able to pose similar questions during the subsequent rereading and discussion.

During the next several days, the children were involved in tasks that explored concepts related to linear measurement. The focus of these tasks and the time involved varied from day to day, but the common thread of the discourse among the tasks was How Big Is a Foot? Readers may want to consider how to extend or to modify the tasks that follow for students with regard to communication, reasoning, and connections to their experiences.

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