Introduction to the Metric System in Year 1 Chemistry

preview image with text:"Introduction to the Metric System in Year 1 Chemistry" with balance, 10g calibration weight

This summer I read a teaching philosophy changing book titled “Building Thinking Classrooms” by Peter Liljedahl. Although the book is written for mathematics, there are so many fresh ways of approaching teaching for any topic, many of which I have begun to implement this school year. One of the first changes I made was my approach to teaching the metric system. I know, the students “learn” the metric system as early as elementary school. But if they learn it then, how come they couldn’t use it in my classroom efficiently? They are not immersed!

The first activity I decided to implement is a sort of pre-quiz to judge what metric values my student do know or can figure out. You can find the file, “Metric Introduction Handout”, in the Supporting Information. I have students work in teams of 3-4 students to answer the first five questions labeled “mild”. As you can see, these questions were written to see if the students had a general sense of the scale of certain easy metric measurements in their everyday lives. When finished, the students call me over to quickly check their answers in order to move onto the next set. But first, they must rate their work by circling the question they were most confident about and predicting their score. This makes them really reflect on their understanding. The “medium” questions are written to use more complex metric measurements with smaller prefixes like micro, nano, pico as well as the Kelvin temperature scale. The “spicy” questions were designed to challenge students who really felt they had a firm grasp on metric and to push them the extra mile (or should I say kilometer?). This section includes some basic scientific notation, advanced units like Joules and parts per million (I thought they might have experienced these in Earth and Space Sciences classes).

I allow the students to work at their own pace and I check their work quickly for correctness only as we proceed. Once all teams have made it through the medium questions (some advanced teams may have made it to the spicy questions as well) we start to review the reasons for the answers as a class. The students really enjoy the titles of the sections and start the topic of metric off with their own “temperature” of how much metric they truly understand so far and how much they need to autocorrect. I try to focus on hands on measurements in metric in the next lessons with real world examples and conversions. We do not ever convert between metric and imperial systems, in fact, the imperial system is outlawed in my classroom completely! Please feel free to amend the handout as you see fit and reach out with your own ideas! I look forward to sharing more ideas that sprouted from the “Building Thinking Classrooms” book this year.

Supporting Information: