Measurement systems – ho hum…

I’ve never particularily enjoyed teaching the measurement systems.  We have expectations in a few of our courses where students need to work with the imperial and metric systems and I can just never come up with good ideas to make it interesting.

In an attempt to find some resources for teachers to use in the grade 10 applied course I came across the story of the Gimli Glider, a plane that had to glide to land after running out of fuel mid-flight.   The incident happened at a time when Canada was moving to using the metric system and the lack of fuel was due to an error in conversion between imperial and metric.  The wikipedia article linked above talks about the actual error that occurred.  I also managed to find video of the CBC news story that talked about this incident.  Perhaps by sharing this video and story and having students check the calculations of the crew and pilot, students might understand the importance of understanding these measurement systems in many careers.

When I found the CBC video I also discovered a collection from their archives of a variety of news stories from the time that Canada was switching to metric.  There are stories of retailers being arrested for advertising using the wrong system, debates about which system is better, and radio shows suggesting that converting to metric was a communist plot.  I’m not sure the debates and radio show would interest students, but I bet news stories about being arrested for using the wrong system might provoke some interesting conversations.

In fact, that got me wondering – if people had to advertise in the metric system back then, have things changed?   I opened up a Home Depot flyer and was interested to find that most linear measurements and area measurements were given in imperial but volume and mass measurements were usually metric and sometimes you see both woven together such as 8mm laminate flooring for $1.99 per sq ft.   I wondered about grocery flyers and found that often weights or mass are given in both metric and imperial but the imperial was usually written larger.  Volume again was almost always metric but you sometimes see pints or half pints of fruit.

Now I wish I had always started the unit off with this activity!! Instead of arguing with students about why they needed to learn both systems, give them a bunch of flyers and have them highlight all the instances of metric in one colour and all the instances of imperial in another.  I would think after that activity they would see why they might need to have some understanding of both systems even though Canada is metric.


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