Book Ideas: Measuring with books, blocks, and even penguins

by Mary Hynes-Berry

There are any number of wonderful books that give children very concrete images to show how big creatures are and to make comparisons to their own size. Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size and Prehistoric Actual Size have been favorite choices in our past workshops on measurement. Find the author’s website here: http://www.stevejenkinsbooks.com

In last year’s Idea Book, Laura Miller reported how she and and her preschoolers from Prieto Academy explored linear measurement after studying polar animals. They wondered, “Are we taller or shorter than an Emperor Penguin?” They used the book Penguins! by Anne Schreiber to find out that the average height of an emperor penguin was about 44 inches tall.

They used measuring tape and large butcher paper to mark this height and, with the help of an overhead projector and a toy penguin, they created a shadow of a penguin. Students worked together to make the penguin shadow match the mark they made on the butcher paper. Children compared the height of the shadow to the mark on the butcher paper. Comments such as “We have to make it bigger,” “Not that big!” and “Move it over!” were made until the height of the shadow and the mark on the butcher paper were the same. The class traced the shadow of the penguin and then they were ready to compare their heights to that of the penguin. Comparison statements that the children used included, “I am the same size as the penguin,” and “I am a little bit taller.”

After this experience with direct comparison, Ms. Miller asked the students, “How else can we measure this penguin?” The first response from a student in the morning class was, “Books!” Discussion arose surrounding how they could use books to measure. There were a number of questions to consider:

  • Should they lay the books flat or stand them up?
  • Would they fall down?
  • Are all books the same size?

Ms. Miller shares the conversation that ensued:

One student, Laura, suggested we could lay the books flat so they would balance better than if we stood them up. After realizing that not all books are the same size and it would take a lot of books to complete the task, Jonathan suggested we use blocks! “We can use blocks; they’re the same!” Jonathan said in reference to blocks being the same size. Children shared their ideas of what they thought would be the best blocks to use. It was decided that triangles would be too tricky and rectangular ones would work best. After stacking the blocks and counting how many long rectangle blocks (8) and how many square rectangle blocks (16) would equal the size of a penguin, one of our reading buddies pointed out that the number was doubled because it takes two square rectangles to make a long rectangle.



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