Candy bars and tape measures are related. Workplace math connects them in many ways, but we will only discuss a specific way in this math practice activity: fractions.
Fractions are overlooked by many math teachers and math tutors, but they are an essential part of the workplace math experience. Due to lack of training and practice, students freeze up when fractions appear on workplace qualification exams or standardized tests.
Fractions are invisible until they are needed. Without a plan, they can be hard to manage, especially in a more stressful testing environment. On the other hand, with better understanding, fractions can be a powerful and useful tool for anyone.
Math is a toolbox full of useful things designed to save time and money. In Hollywood movies, math is fancy and impressive, with a lot of strange symbols and gigantic numbers.
Unlike the Hollywood movies, the most important workplace math happens between the values of 0 and 1 on the number line. More specifically, fractions and decimals are very important because they provide information related to precision and the composition of informative inventory units.
This math practice activity will focus on a food product with sixteen parts: the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar XL.
The tape measures used in manufacturing and construction are marked at least 16 times per inch. Professional tape measures are marked with 32 ticks per inch for the first 12 inches, which allows for even more precise measurement.
Some tape measures are marked with fractions.
Different rulers have different functions, but we will focus on a basic tape measure this math practice activity.
Tape measures and rulers (and similar tools) are used in several industries to measure length. Think of at least 20 industries or professions that rely on similar measurement tools (e.g., the tailor tape used in the fashion industry, the speed square used in carpentry, etc.).
Measurement is how building and machining costs are managed by engineering managers and contractors. The ability to read a tape measure will obviously affect your ability to succeed in the these industries.
Now, let us talk about the chocolate candy bar before return to the topic of workplace math and measurement.
Chocolate Candy Bar Pieces
The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar XL provides us sixteen pieces of chocolate sold together in one massive candy bar. This is an excellent learning opportunity because we can break up the chocolate bar to demonstrate how fractions work on a tape measure.
There are 16 pieces. However, we are going to monitor for the the word “pieces” and change that specific word to “sixteenths” for this exercise. So, when we look at the whole chocolate bar we see “sixteen sixteenths” (16/16), which is equal to 1.
If we break the chocolate bar in half, there will be “eight sixteenths” in each half. In other words, we see that eight sixteenths (8/16) equals one half (1/2) of the big candy bar.
The number 8 on the number line acts like a midpoint for the measurement of all sixteen sixteenths.
If the number of “sixteenths” from the candy bar is less than 8, then there is less than half of the candy bar.
If there are more than “eight sixteenths” available, then we have more than half of the candy bar.
If we break the chocolate bar into four equal sixteenths, then we have “four sixteenths” in each new group. In other words, see that four sixteenths (4/16) equals one quarter (1/4) of the big candy bar.
The number line is the same, but there are more marked values now.
The number 4 on the number line equals 25% of the “sixteenths” while the number 12 on the number line represents 75% of the “sixteenths” in the chocolate bar.
Percents represent parts of 100.
As decimals, the number 4 on this number line equals 0.25. This helps us tremendously because now we know that given any decimal between 0 and 1, we can determine its quadrant on the number line based on how we understand fractions.
Notice that “eight sixteenths” still equals half the candy bar.
If we break up the chocolate bar into eight equal sixteenths (not “pieces”), we have “two sixteenths” per group. There will be 8 groups of “two sixteenths” (2/16 = 1/8) that comprise the whole candy bar.
And, of course, if we divide the chocolate bar into individual “sixteenths”, we have only “one sixteenth” (1/16) per group.
The chocolate candy bar has the same subdivisions as many tape measures (and many types of rulers).
Given any number of (sixteenth) “ticks” on a tape measure, you should be able to calculate the number of “sixteenths” within any inch.
In other words, instead of monitoring the word “pieces” for the chocolate bar, we will monitor the word “ticks” for the tape measure.
Each tick will be replaced by the word “sixteenth” for our workplace math measurements.
For example, let us suppose that we measure some sheet metal with the length of three inches plus eleven “ticks” on the tape.
That is half of one inch (“eight sixteenths”) plus 3 more “sixteenths” of an inch. Thus, the sheet metal part is “three and eleven sixteenths” in total length.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.NF.A.1: Use equivalent fractions as a strategy to add and subtract fractions.
As you can see the chocolate candy bar and the tape measure both share the same properties related to fractions. The candy bar can be divided into 16 pieces and the tape measure can be divided into 16 tick marks. If we understand how pieces a candy bar is divided in to smaller equal-sized groups, we can apply that knowledge to how precision measurements are made in the workplace setting.