Certain factors should be kept in mind as any instructional program begins. First, remember that even though the customary system has received less emphasis in recent years, the metric system represents a change and people tend to resist change. Our students may not show much resistance to the metric system because of some familiarity with it, but their parents with little or no knowledge of it, might. It must be taught in a way that doesn’t necessarily create an “either, or” situation or “you better learn this way or else!”
4.2 Learning by doing
As is apparent in many other situations, learning metrics should be an activity, or hands on situation. Students, especially younger ones, do not learn by listening to a teacher or doing monotonous paper work. Actual measuring in length, area, mass, volume, and temperature provide much more meaningful experience. Along with helping to learn metrics, this hands on approach will also provide practice in measuring skills.
Another useful skill that can go along with measuring is the use of estimation. Students should be encouraged to estimate the measurement they are contemplating in metrics before the actual act. This skill is extremely useful in all aspects of life and can also be used to reinforce the idea of what is logical or reasonable. It will also help in getting them to think in the metric system.
4.3 Motivating students
It is important to remember that concepts being taught and activities used be appropriate to the students mental development and knowledge of the metric system. This is where coordination and planning come in. Assuming a teacher knows the approximate range of mental development of his or her students, one must be aware of how much previous instruction in metrics the students have had and also how effective instruction has been. Obviously, as in every aspect of education, there are no clear, simple answers, thus many factors must be taken into account when planning the curriculum.
Like everyone else, students will learn what they can see a need or use for. Therefore, as a particular unit or concept is being learned, some practical uses or application from outside the classroom should demonstrate a reason for learning it. This could involve bringing objects or speakers in or possible field trips. Get the community involved as much as possible. Parents may be able to share some meaningful, related experience. People from business and industry can relate what the metric system means to them. Government officials can talk to the extent of their involvement and their feelings about conversion to metrics Use anything to achieve and maintain interest.
One thing that should probably be avoided is teaching conversion from one system to another. This would encourage thinking in both systems. Conversion tables and some simple ability in the process will probably be necessary but beyond that it would only serve to confuse and complicate instruction in the metric system.
Lastly, evaluation should be an important part of the curriculum. Continuous change and improvement will be necessary to provide a better working system. As we learn what works and what doesn’t we can accommodate this into our curriculum. It would also be useful to have students evaluate the curriculum so that we may see, from their perspective, what they feel is effective and what isn’t.
4.4 Integrating instruction
Just as elements of math involve many aspects of everyday life, so must instruction in the metric system involve many disciplines in education. Social Studies, English, Unified Arts and even Physical Education should be involved, as well as Math and Science.
Among the possible topics relating to metrics in Social Studies might be a time line on the development of the metric system listing the important dates. Maps with metric scales could be made. Investigations into the current status of the metric system could be used as report assignments. The list of possibilities is limited only by the imagination but each could promote interest in the metric system.
In English, the idea of prefixes and base words could become a unit. One could assign interviews or letters to persons in science, business, or government relating to the metric system.
In Industrial Arts, comparisons of the advantages and disadvantages of the American system to the metric system, or how elements of the metric system are already in place are possible topics. There could be an investigation into the decision by General Motors to go metric and its ramifications.
The area of homemaking will be greatly affected by the change to the metric system. Many possibilities exist here. Will all measuring utensils and recipes change? Will sizes of clothes necessitate changes of machines and measuring?
Even in the area of physical education, the fact that the rest of the world competes on fields and in events which are measured in metric means that many traditional concepts will have to change. Will Jose Conseco’s towering home run be only 120 meters instead of 400 feet. Will Kareem Jabar be a whopping 220 centimeters instead of a mere 7 feet 2 inches?
All the different areas of education must participate if our children are to grow up understanding the educational system. It must also begin with the youngest and continue on through all the grades. There must be a well thought out sequence possibly like the one previously mentioned. Most important, teachers in all areas must have a knowledge of and a commitment to the metric system and society must will it to be.