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Science Skills: The Metric System

Why do we continue to have to re-teach the metric system to our students every year?  I wish I knew the answer to this question!!  Students are exposed to and taught the metric system beginning in elementary grades, but they still need a refresher on it when they reach my high school chemistry class.  Why is this?  The reason is because a science class is the ONLY place that our students use the metric system.  While they may see references to it here and there, they never really use the metric system in their everyday lives.  Our students understand how many miles it is to the movie theater, but if you asked them how many kilometers to the movie theater, they will stare at you with a blank look.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law "H.R. 8674: Metric Conversion Act."  This law declared the metric system "the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce." This law is ineffectual since it "permits the use of customary units in all activities."  Further, "all conversion was to be completely voluntary."  In other words, we have never converted to the metric system.  Our students haven't mastered the metric system because they do not use it except in our science classes.
Sure, the students know the basics of the metric system.  They know that length is measured in meters, mass is measured in grams and volume is measured in liters, but many of my students are still unsure as to how to convert one unit to another.  It is not unusual at all for one of my students to ask, "Which way do I move the decimal to convert ____ to ____?  Even more confusing is what to do with the units when determining area or volume.  How often have I heard, "Are these units squared or cubed?"

The manipulation of metric units must be reinforced at regular intervals, if for no other reason, than to just reinforce basic math skills.  Here's an example. Multiple the following:  (5 g/ml) (10 mL).  The answer?  50 g.  Many students will struggle when units are being added, subtracted, multiplied or divided. They can multiply 5 x 10, but they do not know what to do with the units.

What are we science teachers to do about this?  We have no choice but to teach, teach, teach! Your science class will go much smoother all year long if you will take a class period (or several!) at the beginning of the year to do a refresher on basic metric skills.

Here are a few resources in my TpT store that might be of some help to you:

Metric System Jeopardy Review Game

Metric System Bundle of 12 products

Metric System PowerPoint

Science Skills Mega Bundle

Metric System Task Cards

FREE Metric System BOOM Cards

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