Butter and Decimals

My sister really liked my last post.  I can’t say I’m surprised, because she taught high school Math for 38 years, always involving her students in practical, hands-on activities.  I took many leads from her in my elementary career.

I was looking at some Word files the other day when I came across an old lesson, “Butter and Decimals.”  We used to shake a couple of mason jars of heavy whipping cream up and down when we studied the 13 Original Colonies.  Clam chowder in a crockpot and cornbread from my kitchen made up the menu from the New England Colonies, and we always had a cozy winter day as we spread fresh butter on the cornbread.  By the way, that buttermilk is the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Other times we would figure cubic inches of the volume of Kleenex boxes, measure diameter of the results of a bubble gum blowing contest, and mark coordinate points with our feet on an imaginary quadrant on the rug.

Some activities were offshoots of suggestions in the textbooks.  A good Math book is worth its weight in gold (Addison-Wesley had the best, as I remember).  I regret that today textbooks are mostly a thing of the past.  I am not surprised when kids have so many questions when they don’t have a basic book to refer to.  But that’s another subject.

A favorite was making peanut brittle at Christmas.  In Science we were studying the states of liquid, gas and solid.  Perfect.  The hot mixture, closely guarded, was the liquid.  The steam that rose over the pan was the gas.  The finished project that didn’t make it out of the classroom was the solid.  And we had used fractions to measure ingredients, of course.  The best experience for some kids was washing dishes.

Also shopping and estimating prices were extremely practical ways to teach basic concepts.  If my order at McDonald’s comes up to $230, what mistake was made with the decimal point?  What amount of cash should I expect to get back from my $5 bill?  If I saved up $7 a week for a new bike which costs $200, how long would it take me to buy it?  And so on.

I have a couple of questions for you.  (1) One quart of heavy whipping cream is .954 liter.  If I buy two quarts for making  butter, how many liters is that?  What is it rounded to the nearest whole liter?  (2) Table 1 shook the jar of whipping cream for 20.5 minutes until it separated.  Table 2 shook theirs for 22.15 minutes.  How much longer did Table 2 take to make butter?

None of these would be year-end assessments in today’s classroom.  But they made sense to me.


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