Introduction :: Focal Questions :: Three Curricula :: Lessons Learned


The Strengthening Tomorrow’s Education in Measurement (STEM) Project aims to assist educators (classroom teachers, pre-service teachers, curriculum developers, and assessment professionals) in enriching students’ classroom experiences and learning about the measurement of space (length, area, and volume). Currently, too many students learn measurement poorly and this hurts their understanding and progress in both mathematics and science. One central project task is to assess the capacity of current elementary mathematics written curriculum materials. We have explored this question by investigating three representative elementary mathematics curricula: Scott-Foresman/Addison Wesley’s  Mathematics (Michigan edition), Everyday Mathematics, and Saxon Math to support robust student learning. We have also completed some more cursory investigations of other elementary and middle school curriculum materials. Thus far, we have focused on elementary curriculum materials because measurement of all three spatial quantities (length, area, and volume) is introduced and developed in the elementary years. Understanding the limitations of current curricula helps us help teachers see how they can enrich their teaching and work with students.

Our work is supported with funding from the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings at the National Science Foundation (grants #0634043 and #0909745). The Foundation has recently published a short article on the work of the project that provides another introduction to goals and work. [link to "Understanding Basic Concepts in Spatial Measurement"]

Focal Questions

  • What is the capacity of current U.S. K—8 written curricula to support students' robust learning of spatial measurement (i.e., why measurement procedures work the way they do)?
  • How can practicing teachers learn to enrich their measurement curriculum?
  • How can curriculum authors improve the written content so that their tasks and activities are more productive sites for student learning and understanding?



The Three Elementary Curricula

Lessons Learned

From the analysis of current written curriculum materials:

  • Too much focus is placed on measurement procedures, without sufficient attention to the conceptual principles that underlie and justify them. This focus contributes to poor student understanding and mistakes in simple, but non-standard measurement situations.
  • Measurement content is usually located towards the end of many textbooks; this placement may contribute to less instructional attention than that content deserves.
  • The focus on number and operation and the counting of discrete units of one, ten, and higher powers of ten may conflict with the measurement of continuous quantities, that is, length, area and volume.
  • From our work with practicing teachers and instructional leaders:

  • Without support, teachers do not easily see and understand where conceptual principles underlying measurement appear in textbooks, how they apply to measurement tasks, and how they can be used to explain student thinking.
  • Teachers’ ability to see and grasp those conceptual principles can emerge from their work on measurement tasks and their discussion and reflection on their work.


    The STEM project has been supported with two sequential grants from the National Science Foundation's REESE program—REC #0634043 and DRL #0909745. This support is evidence of the Foundation's commitment to improving the teaching and learning of measurement in our nation's schools. The views expressed at this site, and in the project's oral and other written presentations do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.