How Do I Measure That?

Title:  How Do I Measure That?

Author: Stacy Roe        

Overview / Description:  Students will learn common standard and metric measurement tools to measure distance, weight, and volume. Then they will complete a series of hands-on labs where they apply the use of measurement skills.

Subject(s):   STEM (Science, Engineering, Math, and Technology)

Special Education

Grade Level(s):  9-12

Learning goals/objectives:

After completing this activity, students should be able to:

  • Choose and use the appropriate tool to properly measure
  • Convert between standard and metric units
  • Use a “step” sheet to convert between units in the metric system

Type of Activity:

  • Individual
  • Small Group
  • Whole Class

Teaching Strategies:

  • Discussion
  • Partner work
  • Use of non-standard tools
  • Use of manipulatives

Content Standards:


Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.

Length of Time:  Designed for 10 block schedule periods. 


  • Rolling rules-standard and metric
  • Poster board
  • Markers
  • Standard and metric rulers
  • Small White Boards
  • 8 ½ x 11 paper
  • Copy
  • Cardstock
  • Construction

Directions (Step-by-Step):

Day 1: Pre-test on measurement to gauge the students prior knowledge of standard and metric measurements.  The results of this assessment will be used to determine how many days we spend on each type (inches, feet, meter, centimeter, etc) of measurement.

After the pretest use non-standard measurement tools such as paperclips, hands, shoes, etc. to measure common objects in the classroom.  Record the measurement data on a table.  This data will be used later in the unit when the students convert their alternative measurement to standard and metric measurements.  

Introduce paper airplane design challenge at the end of class. Open Resource lesson  Paper Airplanes Away!

Day 2: Each student will be given a giant inch model (scale ¼ inch=4 inches) and as a group we will label the segments between 0 and 1 inch down to the ⅛ of an inch.

When individual rulers are compete, students will measure straws cut to different lengths and record their answers on a the     straw length data sheet.

Have students start to research paper airplane designs with remaining time.  Students will be constructing a plane using one of three types of paper and conducting trials to see what type of paper and design flies best in a later lesson.

Students should also work on converting their non-standard measurements into standard measurements by measuring the actual length of the object they used and dividing or using repeated subtraction to find how many inches the object they measured is.

Day 3: Using parts of Unit 1; lesson 1 developed by Engage NY from Unit Conversions and Problem Solving with Metric Measurement.  Start in the classroom with  a five-minute discussion about the length of a centimeter, meter, and kilometer.  Have the students each select an object they feel represents each of these measurements.  Form a circle and use a talking piece to share out what different students feel represent a centimeter, meter, and kilometer.  Write their conjectures on a piece of paper/board.  After everyone has shared show them a centimeter is about the size of a staple or pinky fingernail, a meter is the width of a door frame, and a kilometer is two laps around a track, and a kilometer is about the distance to the Rec Center from Menominee Indian High School.  Take the students outside and walk a kilometer (or two laps around the track) so they can feel the distance.

Day 4:

Start class repeating the straw lab this time using the centimeter side of the ruler to measure the straws.  They will put their measurements on this record sheet

Introduce metric conversion and the metric step chart.  Students will be converting their straw measurements into millimeters and decimeters and recording it on this data table.

After students complete their straw lab they should work on making prototypes of their airplanes for testing.

Day 5:

Open class with Meter and Centimeter Number Bonds which is taken from Unit 1.  After that is complete the class is going to be divided into groups; group A is going to work on the problem set from Unit 1 which are conversions within metric measurements and group B is going to go into the hall and complete test fights with their airplanes. The groups will switch multiple times during the class period as students make changes to their planes.

Students will be asked to journal what they learned from making test fights and what changes they made and/or plan to make the next day in preparation for the competition. Journal entries will be graded on content, grammar, and structure not on length.

Day 6:

This will be a work day to make changes to overall airplane design and complete test fights.  Students will also be working with English units of measure by completing a packet converting inches to feet, yards, and miles.  Addition and subtraction of units will be incorporated into the packet learning.  Resource to generate packet pages.

Day 7:

Competition day!  To keep the conditions as equal as possible the airplanes should be flown inside the school gym.  Each student will get three attempts to throw their plane and average will be recorded.  As each plane is thrown the time the plane is in the air (time from when it leaves the students hand until it lands) should be recorded as well as the distance traveled.  To help keep non-throwing students busy give multiple students the jobs of measuring distance and timing.  This will teach them accountability and demonstrate the importance of accuracy.  It doesn’t hurt to have a teacher time as well.  

Competition recording data table

Day 8:

As a group we will discuss what it means to find an average or mean.  Then students will find their individual averages for distance traveled and hang time.  The individual information will be shared to fill in a class data table.  After the class information is compiled the class average will be calculated.  Next we will discuss the terms median, mode, and range. Students will work individually or in pairs to find each of those using our paper airplane data.  

Individually students will work on finding how far their plane traveled converting the inches we measured in the gym to feet, yards, miles, kilometers, etc.  Walk around and help students work on the conversion table using the metric step chart they should have from an earlier lesson.

Day 9:

Review mean, median, mode, and range by having students make posters illustrating each term.

Introduce the formula for finding rate: rate = distance/time or r = d/t; each student should find their airplane average flight rate. Pass out a sheet with some fictional distances and hang times on it.  Practice finding the rate together.

Students will rotate to different stations and complete tasks such as measuring objects with a teachers; measuring using nonstandard units and converting to inches; finding their rate of flight; and filling in the missing names of lines on a blank inch ruler.

The very end of class will be an award ceremony for most creative plane design, longest hang time, longest flight distance, and most time spent on design/revision.

Day 10:

Extra day build in to warp up any work that is not finished.  Watch video of airplane contest and if time allows experiment with balsa wood planes, rubber band powered planes and any other  toy planes available. 


Talking circle to discuss learning using questing that requires more than yes/no answers.  

Assessment (Formative / Summative):

Performance assessment: the students will measure actual objects in front of a teacher, label the lines on a standard inch ruler to the ⅛ of an inch and complete skill sheets to demonstrate knowledge of unit conversion.  Throughout the unit students have been assessed as they complete various tasks.  They will also be assessed during the station rotation; therefore, there will not be a formal test.  

Extension Activity:

The amount of work will be reduced for struggling learners and those that are meeting the learning target will complete the whole assignment. The level of adult support will be modified to meet the needs of individual learners.

OER Commons License:

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