U.S. National Metric Day is celebrated every year on October 10. After all, what better day than 10/10 to celebrate the international decimal system. This year, the holiday is taken to the power of 10, so to speak, because the year tags on an extra 10.
Each year I begin my eighth grade physical science class with a unit on measurement. We introduce the metric system to our students in elementary school, but because the system is rarely used in the United States, most students have forgotten it by the time they reach middle school. I think it’s important that students understand the metric system because it is the language of science. So, with creative inspiration from some metrics websites, our science department has tried to raise metric awareness. Here are a few of our favorite schoolwide and classroom activities:
Guess the metric mass of a giant jar of jelly beans. Instead of counting and estimating the number of beans or candies in a jar, we tell students the approximate mass of one jelly bean and ask them to estimate the total mass in kilograms and grams without going over. The winner is named Metric Ruler and gets all the candy in the jar and a paper crown at an all-school assembly. Amazingly, the winner usually comes within 10 grams of the actual mass.
Metric scavenger hunt. All the clues in this unique scavenger hunt involve a description in metric units. For example, the first clue might say something like: “The second clue can be found at the large object on the quad that is about 7 meters tall.” That clue might be followed by another sending students to a 1-liter drink container in the cafeteria.
Closest to the pin. A representative from each grade uses a golf putter to get as close as possible to a flag or cone. The distance is measured in centimeters instead of the more traditional inches.
Marshmallow toss. Students toss mini marshmallows into large coolers, and whoever gets the most marshmallows in the cooler— measured in grams—is the winner.
Countdowns. This year, install a countdown to 10/10/10 widget on the school website and download free apps and widgets on classroom computers and laptops. You can also show students how to download free countdown apps on their mobile devices.
Powers of Ten. Show students the 1968 short documentary film The Powers of Ten, which depicts the scale of the universe in factors of 10. Find the original 1968 version at www.powersof10.com.
Music video. Ask students to take pictures at 10:10 on 10/10/10, which will be on a Sunday. Use the pictures to create a class music video using Animoto to mark the occasion.
I invite you to think of other metric ideas to share with your students. This year, as we celebrate a big metric milestone—a date and time of all 10s that won’t happen again for another 100 years—challenge your students to remember it, and in doing so, teach them about the metric system.
BIPM homepage: www.bipm.org/en/home
Educator’s Reference Desk: www.eduref.org
eHow, “How To Teach the Metric System”: www.ehow.com/how_5456563_teachmetric-system.html
Making Measurement Simple: The MetricSystem: www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1989/6/89.06.02.x.html
Powers of Ten, based on the film by Charlesand Ray Eames: www.powersof10.com
USMA National Metric Week: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/metric-week.html
U.S. Metric Association: http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger
—Joanne Barrett is a teacher and technology coordinator for The Out-of-Door Academy, an independent K–12 school in Sarasota, Florida.
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