Man standing with measuring ruler by Sumac Sorghum planted March 23, 1911

Man standing with measuring ruler by Sumac Sorghum planted March 23, 1911; State Library and Archives of Florida, on Flickr Commons

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?


2 Responses to “Measurement”

  1. BMGM Says:

    Did you hear the one about the Harvey Mudd students who moved the stakes delimiting a new building’s foundation by a foot one night?
    Actually really happened. Discovered after the foundation was poured. Big brouhaha. The kids did a good job so the building is sound.

    I am shocked by your measurement story at the school. How can 45 kids be in a single class? And how can they be so bad at actual measurement?

    The first time I met the current superintendent of schools, he bragged about canceling home ec. He said that the schools need to prepare kids for the jobs of the 21st century and “Home Ec isn’t going to cut it.” I was ready to put down my knitting, jump up and shake him.

    Perhaps we can stage a stitch-in at his office. We can bring our PhD theses, to demonstrate how well home ec prepared us for life.

  2. pennylrichardsca Says:

    Hands on Art is taught during Phys Ed time at Adams–and Phys Ed classes are usually 45-50 students, from all three grades. I agree that’s a lot. But we also get more than an hour to do the lesson, which is nice.

    Doctoral Stitch In? Anytime, anyplace, I’m there. Occupy RBUSD, if that’s what it takes for kids to learn how food and clothes and cars and rulers actually work. Sheesh.

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