Stairway to Learning! Moving Your Way to Understanding Metric Unit Conversions

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SWBAT correctly convert metric units.

Big Idea

Many 6th graders find it difficult to understand the metric system. By going outside and drawing life-size staircases with chalk, this lesson provides students with a kinesthetic way to become comfortable with metric unit conversions.

Do Now

4 minutes

The staircase method eases students into correctly converting and understanding metric units by making them aware of how to move from "one stair to the next".  In other words, let's say that we want to convert from gram to milligram.  Many students convert incorrectly because they count the step that they are on instead of moving up or down the correct number of steps.  In the case of gram to milligram, they may only move the decimal 2 places to the right and end up at centigram if they count the step that they're on, resulting in moving the decimal incorrectly.  And, when they derive that using multiplication results in the same answer, they will only multiply by 10 twice instead of 3 times.  

As a result, I have created a discrepant event for the Do Now that gets kids thinking about how to move a game piece for their favorite board game.  Later, students see the correlation between moving a game piece and moving a decimal point using the staircase method.  Gamification is a word being used to describe this strategy these days.

Do Now: I first start by projecting a few game boards on the board using a document camera. Alternatively, you could use an overhead projector.  However, if you open up the Do Now, you can simply project this on the board and ask students to complete the activity in the first 5 minutes of class.  You can also photocopy the Do Now and hand out to students or give them this Do Now for science notebook that can be stapled into their science notebook--simply cut the boards into strips and hand out to students before the bell.  

Teaching the Basics of Metric Conversion

15 minutes

I am supplying two options for this section of the lesson.  One option has you use direct instruction supported by a PowerPoint presentation, and option two has you use a flipped video that your students can watch and take notes independently with their group.  I have enough Chromebooks for students to share with a peer, so I am beginning to do more flipped video mini-lessons.  The benefit -- students can rewind the video and re-watch portions that they don't understand. Additionally, they can have access to the videos at home by accessing my YouTube channel

Students, especially 6th graders need a context for why they're learning something.  I like to refer back to other lessons to add context.  I start by asking what were the benefits of adding measurement to the procedure for identifying an apple a few days ago?  

Option 1: I start with this presentation as an introduction to the metric system, explaining to students how they can convert from one unit to the next.  We practice a few conversions on the board as a class.  I keep the practice problems pretty simple -- it's important to keep the confidence levels high.  

Using an energetic voice and tone: "Now that we have a solid understanding of how to convert, it's time to practice!  Not just any type of practice, however, after I give you some simple instructions, we are going to go outside and use chalk to make large staircases on the blacktop!  We will then act out converting, like we are the pieces on a board game!"

General guidelines for outside activity--you can tweak how you present this to your class, based on your style and characteristics of student population.  

1.) Students will first find their own area away from other groups and draw and label a large staircase on the blacktop with the piece of chalk given to them.

2.) Students will then use a spinner to determine where they are starting their conversions and where they are converting to.  The first spin determines where they start and the second spin determines where they stop converting to.  

3.) They will continue to practice this skills until everyone in their group has gone several times and feel comfortable converting.  I am circulating around the courtyard ensuring that everyone is on task and understanding the directions and how to properly convert.  I assist those students who need remediation.

Outside Practice Converting Metric Units

20 minutes

Students follow the steps outlined in the section above and practice converting metric units.

Formative Assessment

10 minutes

Once you feel that students are comfortable converting units using the staircase method--you need to formatively assess their ability to convert.  

Call the students over to an area of the courtyard that has little distractions and explain how this phase will occur.  One group member at a time will be given a starting measurement and an ending measurement.  They have to move up or down the stairs the appropriate amount of times and then write their conversion on their whiteboards and hold up their responses.  I check in with students who get incorrect answers, as I give another batch of students a conversion to practice.  I repeat this until every student has gone at least once.  


5 minutes

Homework for the night is to practice converting using this worksheet.  I remind students that they can go  back and watch the conversion video, if they need reinforcement, reminders, or more help.