Digging Deeper into …. Weight (all classes)

Digging Deeper into …. Weight (all classes)

For practical suggestions for families, and helpful links to digital resources, to support children learning about the topic of weight, please check out the following post: Dear Family, your Operation Maths Guide to Weight

NB: While strictly speaking, the term “mass” is more correct to use than the term “weight” (since mass is measured in kilograms and grams), in Operation Maths, we defer to using the term “weight” as that is the term used in the Primary Maths Curriculum (1999), as well as being the term most frequently used by the general population. To find out more about the difference between mass and weight, click here.


Initial exploration – CPA approach

Like the topic of Length, and in keeping with the over-arching CPA approach of Operation Maths, children’s initial experiences of Weight at every class level should focus on hands-on activities, using appropriate concrete materials.

In the infant classes, this should occur through exploration, discussion, and use of appropriate vocabulary eg heavy/light, heavier than/lighter than, weighs more/less etc. The children should also be enabled to sort, compare and order objects according to weight.

Irrespective of the class level, introductory exploration in this topic could follow the following progression or similar:

  • The children examine pairs of objects and make comparisons, e.g. lunchbox and schoolbag, chair and book, crayon and pencil case. Encourage the children to ‘weigh’ these objects in their hands; using outstretched hands, either to the side or in front of the body, as this can help the children get a better sense of which object is heavier/lighter.
  • Elicit from the children how they might verify their hand-weighing. Introduce a balance and demonstrate how to use it. If sufficient balances are available allow one per group of four to six children. If there are not enough commercial balances, a simple alternative is to use a clothes hanger, from which two identical (ask the children why these need to be identical) baskets, trays or bags are hung (see video below).

  • Move on to pairs of objects whose difference in weight may not be obvious, e.g. crayon and marker. Let individual children test pairs of objects on the balance.
  • Examine pairs of objects where one is larger but lighter, (e.g. a big piece of paper and a stone, a ball of cotton wool and a pebble, a feather and a marble) and pairs of objects where the objects may have a similar size but different weights (eg a ping pong ball and a golf ball). These experiences enable the children to understand that weight is not related to size.
  • This can then progress to incorporate a direct comparison of the weight of three or more objects, to now also include the labels heaviest/lightest. It is important at this stage that the children realise that if A is heavier than B and B is heavier than C, then, without further direct comparisons, we know that A is heavier than C, that A is the heaviest of all three and C is the lightest. This is a very important concept for the children to grasp.
  • In a similar way, the children can estimate and record the weight of objects using non-standard units (e.g. cubes, marbles etc) and standard units of weight (e.g. a bag of sugar as a kilogram weight). Initially, when using standard units (e.g. kilogram) they will be recording the weight of objects as being heavier than/lighter than/the same weight as a kilogram.

HINT: 1/2kg and 1/4 kg weights for comparison can be made using that weight of rice, sand etc in ziploc bags. Challenge the children in 2nd class up to come up with ways to make these, and other, weights using only the balance (ie without using a scales). Making these weights could become an alternative homework task.


Using scales: estimating & measuring

From Operation Maths 5, Pupils’ Book

As the children progress in their understanding of the concept of weight they will begin to appreciate the need for more accurate means to record weight, i.e. using a weighing scales. It is an advantage to have a wide selection of different types of scales available (including kitchen and bathroom, digital and dial) so that the children appreciate that not all scales are the same, and that their measuring skills have to be flexible enough to be able to adapt to the different types.

HINT: Some scales (eg luggage scales, etc) can often be purchased relatively cheaply from value shops. Alternatively, ask the children to bring in a scales from home to use in class while working on this topic.

As always, the children should be encouraged to estimate before measuring.  This can be done by hand-weighing and can incorporate the comparison of the weight of the unknown object with that of a known weight eg holding a lunch box and a bag of sugar in outstretched hands and estimating the weight of the lunchbox in kg and g based on how much heavier/lighter it feels in comparison to the 1kg weight.

Rather than estimating the weight of A, B, C and D before weighing A, B, C and D, it would be better if the children estimated the weight of A and then measured the weight of A, estimated the weight of B and then measured the weight of B and so on. Thus, they can reflect on the reasonableness of their original estimate each time and use this to refine their next estimate so that it might be more accurate. This helps them internalise a sense of weight, and to use this sense to produce more accurate estimates.

When measuring weight using scales with dials, advise the children to first examine the markings to identify the major makings and to calculate the measure of the minor makings/intervals. When appropriate to the type of scales, encourage the children to read the scales at eye level to obtain a more accurate reading. For demonstrations purposes, a large interactive scales such as the one here, could be used

When the children have experienced using a variety of scales they should then be afforded the opportunity to choose which instrument (and which standard unit) is most appropriate to measure the weight of various items. In this way, they start developing the notion that while many approaches can be taken, some are more efficient than others, and the most efficient approach will also depend on the target object being measured. This is the same as the Operation Maths approach to operations throughout the classes; there can be many approaches and some are more efficient than others, depending on the numbers/operations involved.  The aim is for the children to become accurate, efficient and flexible thinkers.

Renaming units of weight

From fourth class on, the children will be expected to rename units of weight, appropriate to their class level. While changing 1,250 g to 1kg 250g or 1.25 kg, will typically be done correctly, converting figures which require zero as a placeholder (eg 1 kg 50 g, 2.6 kg ) can be more problematic, and can reveal an underlying gap in understanding, that is not revealed by the more obvious measures. In these cases, the children should be encouraged to return to the concrete experiences as a way of checking the reasonableness of their answers, eg:

  • “1kg 50g…well 1 kg  is 1,000g and then there’s 50g more so it’s 1,000 plus 50, which is 1,050g.
  • “2.6kg equals 2,600g because 1kg is 1,000g, so  2kg is 2,000 g and .6 is slightly more than .5, which is half of a kg or 500g, which means .6 must be 600g”

T-charts, one of the three key visual strategies for problem-solving used throughout Operation Maths, can be very useful when renaming units of weight, as can be seen below. These can be partially started on a class board and the children then  asked to complete the T-chart with their own choice of weights as is relevant to the tasks required of them. The children could construct these also to use as a reference, as they progress through this topic.

Further Reading and Resources: