• Carrie S. Cutler

Using 3 Act Tasks to Teach Measurement and Data

Updated: Mar 26

When people describe the math in their day, they invariably mention things like balancing a budget, stepping on the scale, shopping for bargains, ordering floor tiles, following a recipe, or wasting time sitting in traffic. All of these real-world mathematics experiences relate to measurement--time, money, capacity, weight, area, and length.


The first book I wrote was all about measurement processes, units, and systems. It included 10 real-kid-world scenarios with extended problems kids loved--roller coasters, bugs under rocks, and a trip to Mount Rushmore. These problems appealed to kids’ desire to use mathematics to make sense of the world. Plus, it was fun!



That book was a blast to write! It shouted from the rooftops my belief that math must be taught with contexts and stories that kids care about. Further, the calculator-enhanced problems helped kids access real-world problems that may have otherwise been out of their computational reach. Writing that book put me on a path of making sense of math through measurement scenarios!


Measurement and Data


Measurement lends context to many of the other areas in mathematics. We measure our bodies, our time, and our bank accounts using number. We measure shapes’ side lengths and angles in geometry. We use measurement to compare bar graphs to determine which survey response was most popular. In these ways, we use measurement to guide our math-positive explorations of many mathematical ideas. Measurement also connects to other school subjects. For example, we measure our heart rates in physical education and measure outcomes of science experiments. Simply put, measurement is assigning a numerical value to a measurable attribute.


It makes sense then that young children first must understand that objects have attributes that can and cannot be measured. Some non-measurable attributes include scent, color, and texture. Some measurable attributes include:

• Time

• Temperature

• Money (value)

• Length

• Area

• Volume (capacity)

• Weight (mass)

Measurement places math in real-world contexts that show how essential math is to our lives. And it’s a powerful vehicle to building students’ number sense and reasoning.


In my new book, Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child’s Mind without Losing Yours, I summarize the BIG IDEAS FOR MEASUREMENT AND DATA FOR KINDERGARTEN THROUGH GRADE 5 in a snazzy table that spans 8 pages. Here is a sneak peek of the first 2 pages of the table:




These tables can be duplicated and sent home, positioning parents and caregivers as partners in their kids’ learning. With a quick glance, parents and teachers can see the BIG IDEAS FOR MEASUREMENT AND DATA and simple activities that bring the objectives to life. For more tables and teaching ideas, check out Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child’s Mind without Losing Yours. You can also find great measurement ideas on my 20-Minute Math Ideas page.


Notice that on the table, I pair concise objectives with simple math activities parents can use to support children’s understanding of the learning goal. If the meaning of an objective is fuzzy, the activity brings additional clarity. For example, the Grade 3 objective for measuring volume of a liquid becomes clear when students try out Coke Cups 3 Act Task. The task shows a real-world connection for measurement by asking “How many drinking cups can be filled with one 2-liter bottle of soda?”


Find many more measurement 3 Act Tasks on the UHouston Math YouTube channel.


Here are a few measurement 3 Act Tasks your students will love and can do at home with their families.

· For linear measurement: Minion Math, Measure It, or Measuring Max’s Manners.


· For volume and capacity, try Gasolina, Savage Rice, or Dum Dum Drop.




Introduce your students to digital skepticism with Does this Tik Tok Hack Really Work? Combine capacity with engineering design with Build a Marble Run.





· For area measurement, check out the Very Hungry Corgi, Candy Heart Rows, or Fruit Cereal Fun!





· Money, Money, Money? Mo Money, Mo Problems and Count ‘Em Up bring real-world experiences with finding the value of a collection of coins.


I hope these measurement ideas strengthen your students' connections to the mathematics they do. I hope they realize that math is fun. And I hope they help your students and their families build math-positive mindsets together!


If you like these ideas, hit subscribe. And find many more tips in my book Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child's Mind without Losing Yours.



**Side Note: Kindergarten teachers, email me for a table that outlines kindergarten measurement objectives and milestones. I’ll post it in a future blog, too. So many things going on with kindergarten kids and measuring!

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