Metric Literacy

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SWBAT analyze text to understand the importance of using a standard system of measuring.

Big Idea

Can you measure a football field with a marker? Can you measure a desk with your hands? Through Trade Books, let's explore why it's important to use a standard system of measurement.

Bell Ringer - Make Metric Meaningful

10 minutes

How do you make metric meaningful? How do you make metric fun?

Get Bill Nye involved in the lesson and students are engaged. The video introduces not only why we measure but Bill Nye also gives examples on how we measure.

I ask students, "Why is it important to use a standard system of measurement?"

I give them one minute to turn and discuss this with their partner. I am looking for answers such as: it's a common language, all scientists speak "metric", so we can all get the same measurement when we measure something. 

Then, I introduce the video (cheers from the students).

After the video, I have students complete a Bell Ringer sheet to have them make a connection between the video and something they've learned, read, seen, or experienced.

Finally, it's best practice to share student responses so we take one minute to do that. An important expectation is to hold students accountable when speaking to use full sentences, and back their "claims" with evidence. 

I think ..... because.....

Metric Literacy: How Tall, How Short, How Faraway

25 minutes

It's best practice to incorporate literacy in science and using Trade Books is one strategy. I use the book Teaching Science through Trade Books by Royce, Morgan, and Ansberry and incorporate many of the suggested texts. In this lesson, students practice Common Core ELA standards such as: determining central ideas (RI.6.2), analyzing the author's purpose, and comparing and contrasting information gained from multimedia sources.

This lesson uses the book, "How Tall How Short, How Faraway," by David Adler.

Common Core (RI.6.4) states students should determine meanings of symbols, key terms, and other domain specific words as they are used in a specific context.  I post a Metric Word Wall because it's best practice and when it's interactive it's even better. Interactive Word Walls are strategies to increase vocabulary achievement through repeated daily exposure to these terms. Interactive word walls:

  • use semantic maps as graphic organizers
  • identify important ideas and how they fit together
  • visually show relationships among concepts
  • create a deeper understaning
  • can even have student generated material as a visual support


As the lesson starts, I ask students, "Can you measure a desk without a ruler?"

Then I ask them to measure the length of their desk without any traditional measuring tools. But first, I want them to brainstorm a list of ways that you could measure the desk without any tools.

I tell them, "In ancient times, measurement tools were not readily available, so people had to come up with creative ways to measure things. In ancient Egypt, one way to measure was the "span." A "span" is from the tip of the little finger with the hand stretched wide."

All students should measure their desk with their hand span and then record the number of spans on the (chalk, white, or smart) board. 

Then I measure the desk with my hand span and record the number of spans on the board.

I ask, "Which measurement is the correct answer for the length of the desk?"

Students quickly understand that there is NO correct answer because each person’s span is a different size.

Now, introduce the book and read through page 7 about the hands, fingers, & arms that were used as measuring tools in Ancient Egypt.

Have students try measuring their heights using ancient Egyptian nonstandard units as explained on pages. 6-8.

Then, I tell students to have their heights measured by partners using cubits, spans, palms, & digits, and compare those measurements to their own.

I ask, "Is there an accurate way to measure?  Why or Why not?"

Read the rest of the book aloud to the class. When I read the book aloud I show them the pictures as I circulate the room. Another option is to show the book under the document camera.

Now I ask, "Which metric unit would you use to measure your height?"

Students should measure their own height in centimeters and compare them to their heights measured in centimeters by partners.

I ask, "Is this an accurate way to measure? Why or Why not? Which is better: measuring a room in paces or meters?"

I want students to measure the classroom in both paces and meters and then explain which method they think is more accurate and why.

Let's Wrap It Up

5 minutes

What new (to you) idea was used or discussed in class today?

I bring the class back together with this closing question. Give them 1-2 minutes to turn to their partners to process the question and discuss possible answers. Using this Think Pair Share strategy is best practice. It is important to hold students accountable for their discussions. I do this by circulating, listening in (rather than speaking if you can avoid it), and expecting students to use a thinking framework for discussion.

Then we take 1-2 minutes to share out as a class. I am looking for central ideas from the text such as: measuring has been around for thousands of years, we can measure with unconventional tools, metric is used almost everywhere in the world (except for USA, Liberia, and Myanmar) and if you use unconventional tools you will not get standard or universal measurements.