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Measuring Up Three Spokane Schools Field-Testing New Program To Teach Children Concepts Of Measurement

Seven-year-olds Adrienne Creer and Andrew Shaw measured the width of a computer screen and the height of a file cabinet. Then Andrew scanned the classroom and spied something really big: the pull-down movie screen.

Adrienne predicted the screen would be 62 cubes wide. Andrew said 60.

Then, with some difficulty, they took their measurement. Their measuring tool, a long line of plastic fit-together cubes, buckled as it crossed the great expanse of the screen. But working together, they held it steady long enough to discover the screen was 97 cubes wide.

The lesson Wednesday at Jefferson Elementary School was part of a measurement program designed by the National Science Resources Center in Washington, D.C., which will be available next year to schools nationwide.

But first it is being field-tested in three Spokane first-grade classrooms.

The teachers’ experiences and suggestions will help the center improve the program before selling it to school districts.

“What I’m looking for is: Is it developmentally appropriate for the kids?” Jefferson Elementary teacher Diane Campbell said as two students waited to measure her height.

“Are the kids confused, or do they understand what they’re doing? From what I’ve seen them doing today, they do understand.”

In the past, children have learned measurement by learning to read hash marks on a ruler. But researchers found students weren’t learning the underlying concepts of measurement and couldn’t read a ruler either, said Joyce Weiskopf, project director of the new science program.

The new approach starts with what children know about measurement, such as, some people are taller than others.

Over about 10 weeks, the hands-on lessons build on that knowledge as the children learn to estimate heights and widths and check their estimates against actual measurements.

Inches and centimeters are left until later. Children start using non-standard units such as their feet. Later, they use adding machine tape and coffee stirrers.

The materials come with the unit so the teacher doesn’t have to buy anything.

“It’s very, very teacherfriendly,” Campbell said.

Two other Spokane first-grade teachers, Diane Figueroa at Holmes Elementary School and Barbara Edwards at Woodridge Elementary School, also are testing the measurement unit.

The Washington, D.C., center is a joint operation of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences.

The center’s teaching materials are in line with new science education standards developed by the academy and reviewed for scientific accuracy.

Money to design the program came from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Defense and several private foundations and companies, including Dow Chemical Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Spokane is among about 500 school districts nationwide using those science units that already have passed field tests.

Field-testing gives the center’s materials credibility, said Scott Stowell, Spokane School District 81 science coordinator.

The only problem, Stowell said, is that there are no comparable programs for grades 7-12. The district may apply for a National Science Foundation grant to develop those materials with Eastern Washington University, Stowell said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

Tags: education