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Teaching Kids Estimating: 3rd in Our Math Teaching Tips Series

Estimation is one of those math skills that kids need continued practice with in order to gain a grasp of the concept; it’s definitely not something  that should be taught once a year! Fortunately, it’s easy to incorporate estimating into your classroom routine.  Here are a few quick activities to try with your students.

  • Estimating Jar: Once a week  fill the “Estimating Jar” with new items—colored candies, blocks, cereal, dried pasta. Keep the jar accessible all week so that kids can see it up close and provide some hands-on experiences to support their learning.  For example, if cereal is inside the jar, have a tub of cereal and measuring cups available on a nearby table. Suggest a possible strategy: fill a measuring cup and count how many cereal pieces are in one cup, and then try to figure out how many cups it took to fill the jar. You can allow kids to make multiple estimates during the week. Let the person who has the closest estimate fill the jar for the following week.  Make a chart to record the item and how much filled the jar each week.  Have students refer to the chart to decide if their estimate is reasonable.
  • How Long Can You…? Challenge students to estimate how long they can balance on one foot. After everyone records their guesses conduct a class experiment with partners timing each other. Then let them know the world record for the longest duration balancing on one foot, according to, was 76 hours and 40 minutes! You can also look up other possible challenges in the Guinness World Records 2010.
  • Trivia Galor: Use facts about topics you are studying to motivate your students to estimate. The U.S. Census Bureau has a great website for kids with facts about states, population, and random information like the number of dentist offices in the state. Here’s a great discussion for your older students: in 2000, Minnesota had 388 video/disk rental stores, but in 2007 there were only 285. Why would the number of stores go down so much in such a short span of time? What would be your estimate for the number of video stores in the next census? Student almanacs are another great source for interesting trivia.

Have fun estimating!