I taught an art class at the middle school last week–about 45 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in the room. The project required the kids to measure an inch in the middle of each edge of a six-inch square of paper. The lesson involved guiding them on this–mark off 3 inches, now mark off half an inch on either side of that first tickmark. Repeat on the other edges.
A surprising number of these Redondo Beach middle schoolers did not manage that task without help.
Some clearly had never measured with a ruler; some didn’t realize that centimeters aren’t inches; others didn’t know what an inch looked like, even relative to an eighth-inch. Others did fine. Now, all these kids pretty much went to the same four elementary schools, had the same math curriculum, etc. So…. what’s up?
Here’s my theory: I suspect a lot of the kids in that classroom had never measured anything by themselves, for a PURPOSE. Never sewed a basic pillow, never sawed a plank, never cut paper squares for origami, never laid out a garden, never made a simple map to scale. Some maybe never even measured a cup of rice or water for a recipe. So they may have learned to use a ruler in a classroom several years ago, with worksheets and textbooks and posters, but they didn’t keep the knowledge because it didn’t mean anything to them. The consequence for mismeasuring was a red X, not a soggy pancake, not a box shorter on one side, not an unwearable garment.
These kids who are constantly measured, tested and graded, never do any actual measuring for themselves. How will that work out? What are the consequences for the rest of us, if children don’t really learn how to measure an inch? Well, I wouldn’t want any of them cutting my hair, for starters. Laying the foundation for your house, maybe?