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Non-Standard Measurement

18th February 2015

Non-Standard Measurement is measuring using non-standard measurement tools:

e.g. pop sticks, hand spans & square paper pieces.

This aspect of measurement is a very important precursor to ‘REAL MEASUREMENT‘ it appears in the Australian Curriculum in Foundation Years, Year 1 & Year 2.

‘Real Measurement’ appears as Indirect Measurement in the Australian Curriculum and involves measuring using familiar metric units & measurement tools and appears in Year 3, Year 4, Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7. You may be surprised to know that measurement  using formula appears in Year 7!


Not So Straight Forward!

Teaching measurement is not so straight forward anymore, research has identified complex key ideas & skills that students need to develop if they are to be able to really measure. This complexity has carried itself into the descriptions & wording of the Australian Curriculum & I find staff who were once confident in teaching this area now feeling a little cautious & confused.

To help the staff at our school  I created a Measurement Cheat Sheet. It helps staff reconnect & reconcile their training with the expectations of the Australian Curriculum. The Cheat Sheet helps educators to make links  between Year Levels, AC Content, & the Achievement Standards. There is also a clarification of Terminology page.

Click here for your FREEBIE – Australian Curriculum Measurement – Cheat Sheet

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WHY is Non-Standard Measurement / Indirect Measurement so Important?

Using Non-standard  direct measurement  helps students understand what measurement actually is and what it is to  measure. Research by the First Steps Team identify these BIG Ideas which we need to help our students to understand BEFORE a formula or ruler is put in front of them, if this step is missed then students’ never really truly know what it is to measure… They just go through the motions which continues into adulthood…Here is a funny quick clip of why it’s important to get measurement right in the early years.

Take a look at this Foxtel ad about a dad, son & a large fridge… “Should Have Measured it!”

Remind you of anyone? Share your measuring mistakes in the comments below!


So you may be wondering, and so may your parents & your students…Why are students made to measure objects using hand-spans, popsticks, string, anything but a ruler!  

It’s important to gain as much hands on experience with the processes of measuring it’s not just about a measurement , it’s about the RIGHT measurement! The process of non-standard measurement highlights some big ideas of Measurement & students need to master the full range  of skills to become competent:


 Select an appropriate measuring tool to measure with

messy box  This step is the MOST IMPORTANT skill of all. More often than not students are given a tool e.g. popstick, piece of string etc to measure with and they are never given the opportunity to decide what an appropriate tool is. You may think that children instinctively know what to measure length, width, mass etc with but they don’t … This was proved recently when I asked the Year 4’s to measure their desks. They were not told anything else, but each group had a MESSY MEASUREMENT BOX on their tables containing a range of items, string, popsticks, broken rulers, plastic cups, blutac, match sticks, sticky tape, elastic bands, clothes pegs, crayons, pencils, cotton buds…etc. Importantly the box was MESSY and the items were not organised, or this would again take away student choice. As we stood and watched the children my colleagues & I could not believe what we were seeing. The behaviour of the groups clearly identified what we needed to teach:

Group 1 – stood staring & disengaged, waiting because they just couldn’t get past the ‘hands on’ approach & didn’t understand the concept of measuring

Group 2 – pleaded  for a ruler,

Group 3 – decided to use bluetac & stretched it across the table. When it snapped they put the bit in their hands on the edge of the table and ignored the fact that they didn’t have enough

Group 4 – used a mixture of items, a crayon, a popstick & an elastic band, and lined them end to end across the table in a very slanted line, and when they got to the end & didn’t have a small item just ignored the gap.

Group 5 – used the same item repeatedly, but who measured the space of their finger every time they moved their tool

Group 6 – The group who used a MARBLE!!!!!!!!

So you can now see that we must let our students’ select the right tool for the job  from a range of items when we ask them to measure! Try this one in your class and let’s see what happens! Please share your story in the comments box below!



So Next time you plan a MEASUREMENT ACTIVITY… 

Check out the First Steps Key Understandings & think about your students’ needs:

Understand Units

  • Key Understanding 3 – To measure something means how much of a particular attribute it has.
  • Key Understanding 4 – The instrument we choose to represent the unit should relate well to what we are measuring & should be easily repeated
  • Key Understanding 6 – Our choice of attribute & unit depends upon what we are trying to measure & why

 Direct Measure

Key Understanding 3 – To measure consistently we need to use our instrument in a way that is a good match to the object being measured






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