Real Life Measurement

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Students will be able to measure in fractions of an inch and record plant growth tying math and science together.

Big Idea

Recording and analyzing plant growth over time is a natural and real world connection to representing and interpreting data.


5 minutes

For today's inclusion question, I ask my students to discuss what plants do they think would grow fast in our classroom?  Then I ask, "How could you keep track of this growth?"

For this part of the lesson, I want to activate students knowledge about plants and measurement and to give them an opportunity to share what they know in an appropriate way. I let the students talk for just over a minute and then gathered their attention to start our experiment. 

My students know they have less than a minute for all the people in their Learning Community to share - typically 4-5 students.  By keeping the time short, I am able to have students keep their discussion on target. 

I start every lesson with an inclusion question or activity.  Inclusion, for me, means including the individual student in learning, getting them hooked.  It also gives me insight into what the students know about the concept I will be teaching, and activates students' knowledge as well as provides a link to their previous knowledge. 

Creating a Self-Watering Plant Container

20 minutes

Over the first few weeks, my class and my teammates' class research recycling and start, for the second year, our school-wide recycling program.  I had remembered seeing information about reusing soda bottles as a self-watering planter, so I have my students bring in small soda bottles. 

I prepare the soda bottles for my students by cutting each one in half and punching a hole in the cap. Punching a hole in the cap, for me at least, means placing the cap on thick carpet and using a screw driver to punch a hole in the top of the cap. 

For a messy project such as this one, I organize all the materials beforehand in bins. Each bin contains the soda bottle cut in half, soil in a bag, and a length of string the students will be measuring and cutting six inches long. 

I open with the students by modeling the process, demonstrating how to tie a knot in the string and then thread it through the hole in the lid.  The next step is to put the lid on, and fill the bottle with soil.  In each team, one student pours water into the bottom of the bottle, and scoops soil into the other half, while the other students work on threading the string.  When the students have the container put together, they raise their hand and I come over with the Chia seeds.

This is an exciting project, and students can get carried away. In the middle of the activity, my students needed to reflect on their behavior. Because I am always working on building collaboration and social skills I use these focus questions.  

How have you helped in this project? 

Did someone help you and did you give that student an appreciation?  

If I notice a student has not participated a lot, I ask if they would like to put in the seeds.  My reason for this is to make sure everyone is included. 

During this time, students also write predictions about the plant growth, begin work on a growth chart, and design a cover page in their science journal. 

To insure students are creating full explanations of their thinking I have the 5W's (Why, What, Where, When and Who) posted.  I specifically focus on the Why and What with reflections. 

Why do you think this? 

What is your evidence? 

What do you think could happen? 

What specifically did happen? 

Elaborating on The Science and Math

8 minutes

When the containers are created and planted with Chia seeds (fastest growing seeds I've ever seen) the tables discuss how and when they are going to measure the plants.  Through consensus, everyone would measure in the morning, students would take turns, and measurements would be recorded to the nearest quarter inch.

I know at this point of the year not all of my 4th grade students are able to measure to the nearest quarter inch, but I knew the majority of my 5th graders can, and they become the teachers (MP2).  I always place two fifth graders with two fourth graders at every table.  Every time the students measure their plants, I walk about the room listening and helping the few students who need help and appreciating those who are helping others. 

After the initial set up, the students record plant growth in their charts every morning with little help from me. I am able to walk around and ask questions about the students findings and predictions - extending their learning.

The students are using rulers with centimeters and inches (MP5).  This opens up the discussion of which side they should use -- the one with the lines close together or the lines farther apart.  At this point I often hear my 5th graders showing and explaining the differences in the sides  (Yeah!  A leadership opportunity for them!)  Also, when you have to teach another person, you really have to know your content and be able to explain your thinking.

This video is great to show before or after planting the seeds.  I use it before so my students will know what to look for as the plants grow. 

Representing and Interpreting the Data

20 minutes

After two weeks of gathering measurement data, the students figure out how much the plants at their tables grew between recordings and then place the data on a class line plot (MP4). 

Then using the question, "What do you know from this graph?" students write two findings.  The majority of the students notice most of the plants grew 1/4 of an inch over night. 

In the student example here, this student wrote 5 out of 7 plants grew 1/4 of an inch and 2 out of 7 grew 1/2 over night.  This gives us a starting point for a class discussion on how 5 out of 7 is a fraction written 5/7. 

I am also able to ask, "Grew 1/2 of what?"  This directs (reminds) the student to look for precision in using labels (MP6).

Student Evaluative Reflection

10 minutes

Students record growth for almost three weeks before the plants start to die, but at that time they continue to watch the decomposition of the plants (5.LS2.B), taking less than 5 minutes every morning to record their findings. 

To tease out the mathematics of the lesson, I ask the students to look at their charts and see if they find any patterns, any reasons for changes in growth, and discuss this with their tables. They record these findings in short phrases in their science journals.  I tell them not to worry about perfect spelling and grammar in these recordings.  My reasoning is this is the beginning of the year and I just want them to write as much as they can and not get "stuck" on the mechanics.  We also discuss that later in the year we would be taking our science experiments to final publication and the focus would include correct conventions. 

Students make comments such as, "Our plants grew almost a 1/4 of a inch a week for the three weeks before it died!" Another from that table added "It grew a total of 3/4 of an inch."  One table had their plants grow 6 1/2 inches in the three weeks.  I ask this table to figure out, about how much did the plants grow each week?  This has students adding fractions in the third week of school.  (5.NF.2)  While continuing to work on this problem, the students at this table also look for other places they could divide fractions - time, food. 

At this time I can have the students plot their growth charts on a line plot.  I think this would be too much at this time, because my fourth graders are just getting the concept of fractions in a hands on experiment. But for a 5th grade class, this is an appropriate math extension to this lesson.