A measuring inquiry

This morning, before school, as I was writing a message to the children, Carl came into the classroom and began putting mathematics equipment on the table. “This is for mathematical inquiry” he explained. “Because that’s what we have to do. With numbers. Only numbers. Only 9.” He put some white-boards and pens on a table. After some thought he added a bag of dice. Eileen came in from the playground to see what he was doing, and he explained to Eileen that he was “getting everything for math inquiry”. Together, after some discussion, they set up another table with A3 sheets of paper, black pens, a jar of one yen coins and a sorting tray containing an assortment of other coins. On a third table they placed a tray of different kinds of rulers. Carl asked me if I could write something about the mathematical inquiry in my message. I asked him what I should write. “Write that Carl and Eileen made everything for mathematical inquiry and everyone have to do that. Only that. But they can do 7 and 5 too. Only 9 and 5 and 7. And only rulers and moneys.” I wrote all this down.

I had made an entirely different plan for the morning but Carl’s plan seemed more important. I abandoned my plans to follow this initiative, intrigued to see what the other children would make of the math inquiry. As the children came in, they read the message and discussed the content with each other.

Jenny Hmmmm. Well I dont think that Carl is the boss.
Saku Because we are all the boss of us.
Eileen But its not boss, only idea.
Lisa I think it’s a good idea.
Aika I think its a good idea because we can learn in inquiry
Lars I agree with Aika, I like it.
Anish Me too, like it.

The children began to explore the equipment that Carl and Eileen had set out on the tables. For the next hour, the children were deeply engaged, experimenting, hypothesizing, testing, comparing and discussing. Some children spent the whole time involved in one inquiry. Other children moved from table to table. As the adults observed the children at work, we remarked on how independent and motivated the children were and reflected on the power of children following their own interests and having an input into what and how they learn.

A Mathematical Inquiry on PhotoPeach


The children’s interest in measuring continued. A few mornings later, Aika suggested we have “a measuring inquiry”. I asked the children what the inquiry would be about.

  • So that we can find out stuff about measuring.
  • So we do inquiry so we know how to measure.
  • I know already.  You need stick.
  • A long stick with lots of numbers on.
  • You can just have short stick and you can stick together.
  • No need numbers.  Stick.
  • Yes!  Need numbers.
  • The numbers tell you how big it is.
  • But you can do it with no numbers if you count.  Then you dont need numbers, you just have to count.
  • You need a short stick for measuring short stuff and a long stick for measuring long stuff.
  • If there is no numbers on the stick you have to write them on.
  • Kilometers is for measuring.
  • Kilometers is for measuring roads.
  • And houses.  And there’s 100 kilometeres.
  • You have to measure because if you want to make a house it has to be the proper size.
  • More than one kilometer.
  • Otherwise it will be a funny shape.  Like a octagon.
  • Not a funny shape, the wrong size.

The children spent the morning inquiring. That afternoon, I read them The Fabric of Measurement. This beautiful, hard-backed book documents a measuring project carried out by some of the KC children when they were in the ELC. In the days that followed, the children eagerly continued with their personal inquiries into measurement of length.

A measuring inquiry starts… on PhotoPeach


A few mornings later, in response to the children’s ongoing interest in measuring, I asked the children if they would be interested in measuring each other. Saku clapped his hands with delight. “That’s an excellent idea!” proclaimed Lisa. “Let’ measure who is the biggest” suggested Aika. “Carl! Carl is biggest” cried Issey.

The children began to organize themselves into a line. This prove to be quite difficult. Everyone had different ideas and the children struggled to find a consensus. I wondered whether I should intervene or not. I observed for several minutes and finally stepped in when I felt the children were becoming frustrated. After a little input from me, the children came up with a common vision and I returned to the background as an observer.

The children organized themselves into a line and took turns to see if everyone was in the correct order. Once they were happy with the result they spent a few seconds enjoying their achievement till Jenny wondered, “But how will we still know? We can’t stay here all the time, like all night and for ever, don’t you know!” “We can do a list.” Eileen suggested and quickly got a clip-board and paper to record this data.

This morning, we looked again at the list. I pointed out that now we know that Carl is the tallest but we still dont know how tall he is. Lars asked Carl to stand up, and the measuring began.

How tall is Carl? on PhotoPeach


This is an ongoing inquiry. It has raised questions which will help the children to understand the need for standard units and a degree of accuracy. I resist the temptation to give them answers and wonder instead where the children will take this next.

About tasha cowdy

PYP coordinator; Reggio inspired early childhood teacher; Workshop leader; Using technology to flatten classrooms; Involving parents in children's learning; Switzerland
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4 Responses to A measuring inquiry

  1. zuhal ergul says:

    This is a really good example of student inititated inquiry. I couldn’t open the links you shared. Do I needa special program for this? do I need to do something?


  2. tashacowdy says:

    Hi Zuhal!Sorry for not replying sooner. I have just seen your comment. I forgot to tick the “notify me of any comments” box! I’m not sure why you couldn’t open the links. You shouldn’t have to do anything special. Perhaps you could try going through the class blog? blogs.yis.ac.jp/cowdyt/ The PhotoPeaches won’t work on iPad or iPhone but otherwise the links should work.

    Sorry again for the delay.


    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi! I’d love to share with my preservice teachers your PhotoPeach presentations about students’ inquiries but it reads the link cannot be found (and I’m on a computer). If you do not mind, please repost the urls for the PhotoPeach presentations. (I saw them on the blog link but prefer to send students directly to the PhotoPeach so they don’t have to scroll down to find it). Thank you!


  3. Pingback: Twitter sparks a measuring inquiry | Inquire Within

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