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by John Vogel
University of Idaho

ITV SERIES MATH TALK - Measuring length, measured steps # 111



In this lesson, students will measure time and length. Through the use of video and technology, they will explore some of the key elements of measurement, such as units and conversion between units. They will also explore alternate units of measurement and apply measurement to everyday applications.

This lesson will also introduce volume to the students. Another area covered in this lesson is problem solving whereby students will analyze a problem and generate possible solutions to this problem. Estimation is also introduced to examine probability. This will also be used to see the practicality of using different units of measure.


  • Students will use measurement to correctly identify the length of time between a historical event and the present.
  • Students will name several units of measure.
  • Students will recognize different applications of measurement, such as time, weight, length and volume.
  • Students will differentiate between time, weight, length and volume
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to properly use a ruler to measure an object.
  • Students will analyze video and detect improper measurement practices.
  • Students will use measurement to record the length of everyday objects.
  • Students will solve several problems involving length.
  • Students will explore conversion between inches, feet and yards.
  • Students will examine estimation and probability.


  • TV and VCR
  • MATH TALK Measuring Length- Measured Steps, Show 111
  • Rulers for each student
  • Roll of chart paper and variety of markers
  • 26 pencils
  • Smaller model of staircase, several feet high with at least 4 steps
  • 10 calculators
  • 10 tape measures
  • Box of 500 toothpicks
  • 26 bottles of glue
  • 12 magnets 8 inches in length
  • Abundant supply of construction paper
  • 10 computers with Internet access
  • 3 sets of staircases with easy access to both top and bottom flight and no obstructions between the bottom riser and intersecting point of the line at ground level parallel to the treads of the staircases and the line perpendicular to the highest tread. This will ensure ease of measurement.
  • 5 platforms of differing height.


Review the concepts of measurement, time and distance with students. Review events from Social Studies and Language Arts unit regarding the turn of the century.



To give students a specific responsibility while viewing the students will interact with events from the video so close attention should be paid. They should have notebooks and a pencil on their desks when the video starts. The teacher will focus their attention to measurement and time. Attention should be called on the proper way to use a ruler to measure.


START at the beginning of the video. PAUSE when parrot reads newspaper about death of Archduke Ferdinand. Allow student discussion about the time period event surrounding this event. Teacher writes current year (2000) and year of death of Ferdinand (1914) on the board. Instruct the students to figure the amount of time that has passed since 1914. Allow several minutes for discussion and interaction between the groups. It is desired that the class is structured in such a manner that the students are arranged in groups of 3-5 at tables to encourage interaction and cooperation in problem solving. Students will share their answers.

Use this opportunity to reintroduce vocabulary of units of time, mainly years, days, minutes and seconds. Can be extended to decades, centuries and millenniums if so desired. Use clock and/or calendar and have students generate problems regarding time. Example, it is 10:00 now, how many hours before 2:00? If it is April 28 today, how long ago was April 20?

RESUME video. PAUSE when Sandy from San Diego says her ruler doesn't work properly. Allow several minutes to discuss what she could mean. List student suggestions on chalkboard. Predict what they think will happen in the video.

RESUME video. PAUSE when boat sinks right after Nordoc Twitchyroom measured using incorrect procedure (he didn't start on 0). Allow student comments on what happened.

RESUME video. STOP video when boat sinks again. Re-address the issue of correct measuring techniques. Students practice measurement with rulers- measure desks, papers, notebooks and other smaller objects in the classroom, share results. Discuss construction and different materials needed to cover a staircase. Involve the Vocabulary words riser and tread. Ask for student explanations.

Tell students that today the video will involve covering a staircase with carpet. Have students offer suggestions on ways to measure how much carpet is needed.

START video on carpet skit. PAUSE when chef explains measurement for cooking. Discuss various uses of measurement weight, volume, time, but more importantly length. Allow several minutes to explore the differences between volume, as used in cooking, and length. Have students predict easier way to measure amount of carpet needed.

RESUME video. STOP after lady explains that there is an easier way to measure and the graphic illustration is shown. Teacher models how to measure staircase for the class. Measure both the treads and risers and add up. Have class add to practice addition. Use tape measure to show that technique shown in the video does work. Convert for the children between inches and feet. Depending on student understanding, may extend to yards as well.

Teacher Note- this is also a great time to use the metric scale to measure and compare meters to feet and centimeters to inches. Allow students to measure staircase and platforms using non-standard units of measure. Examples- book lengths, elbow to tip of finger etc. Share measurements with the class.



Teacher models the construction of a staircase by showing the sum of the risers and the treads and recording the number of toothpicks used for height and length. Instead of toothpicks, teacher may use larger magnets for easier visual.

Students will construct staircases using toothpicks, glue and constructions paper. Students share and discuss different constructions. Discuss various ways to measure- # of toothpicks, inches, centimeters, finger lengths etc.

Application- Students break into groups of 3-5 students. Using measurement skills and techniques, they will measure staircases and record in notebooks. They will use both sums of treads and risers as well as technique shown in video. They will share results with class.

Extension- measure other objects in school using this technique. For example, width of ceiling- same as the floor (if walls are perpendicular.)


Invite local contractor into the classroom or go out to construction site. Discuss aspects of measurement with construction. Would be helpful if staircases are involved. Students should apply measurement on the site. Extend by having students write a story about building a house. Use terms of measurement.

Study exploration- how much travel can be accomplished in a day, week etc. Discuss time and distance relationship. Take students through imaginary journey across the United States. Could be used as a great Thematic Unit focusing on measurement, geography, literacy etc.


Science- "Exploration to Mars" Mars Polar Lander- searching for water on Mars http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msp98/ http://www.mars~watch.com

Possible Thematic Unit

Calculate the time necessary to travel to Mars given the distance (constant speed is assumed). Teacher may need to model the calculations.

Note- the calculations may be rather complicated for a 3rd Grade Class, but with proper teaching techniques, students should at least recognize the vast distance and extended amount of time needed to reach Mars.

If desired, rate may be briefly introduced at this time as well. Much easier if done in smaller and simpler increments.

Extend or Integrate
Write a story on personal travel to Mars. Draw pictures, charts and/or graphs of food needed, distance traveled etc.

Classroom solar system
Construct a model solar system roughly according to scale. This will give students a greater understanding of relationship of size and distance between planets.

Field Trip to Planetarium History of Space Exploration

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

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