Each October 10th we celebrate National Metric Day, which may prompt the question, why metric? Most people in the United States don’t bother much with the metric system. We might run into it in STEM classes, and those in STEM careers certainly use it; but in day-to-day life we might see something about milliliters or kilograms on a label, but right alongside are usually the more-familiar ounces and pounds… whew! So, why learn the metric system?
Besides the convenience of having one coherent system of measurement used throughout the world, using the metric system has a big advantage over the traditional system: there are fewer units! To measure length, use the meter. There may be different prefixes attached, but it’s all about the meter. No need to worry about feet, inches, yards, or miles, or to remember the conversion factor for changing one into another. Same with volume… just use the liter! No need to memorize “how many ounces in a pint” or “how many teaspoons in a tablespoon.” Calculating and visualizing these various quantities become much simpler.
The metric system is something to use and something to celebrate! To help you do both, the US Metric Association has plenty of ideas and resources for everyone, including a special section for educators. For example, you can use something very familiar–your own body–to begin to get a sense of metric measurements by creating your own “body ruler.” What is your height in centimeters? What is your mass in kilograms? Puzzles and games are available on the site as well as a list of ideas for celebrating all year long.
If you’re nearby, our Resource Center has a bunch of metric items available to borrow for your scientific measuring needs! For liquids, we have glassware, like beakers, graduate cylinders, and flasks, for distance we have meter sticks, and for mass we have scales and balances. If you are teaching about the metric system, stop by the STEM Resource Center to loan these items, and many more, from us!