Ah, the metric system. The base unit system for literally all of science. While students in many countries are used to the metric system and familiar with these units of measurement, for students in the United States who are used to using the English system of measurement, metric conversions require some additional instruction and teaching. If you’re looking for some solid resources for teaching measurement to your middle schoolers, here are my favorite metric system lesson ideas for middle school.
Metric System 101
Alright, even us teachers could use a brief recap and review! The metric system of measurements (also known as the International System of Units) was established in the late 1700’s. The use of metric units has been adopted as the official measurement system by nearly every country worldwide. In the metric system, each type of measurement has customary units. They are:
- Basic units of length: meter
- Basic units of volume: liter
- Basic units of weight: gram
Metric conversions are calculated by multiplying or dividing by factors of ten (10.) This can be shown by moving the decimal point either to the right (for smaller measurements) or to the left (for a larger unit.) These measurement conversions are reflected in the units by applying prefixes to the basic units of the metric system.
- Kilo (largest)
- BASE UNIT (gram, liter, meter)
- Mili (smallest)
With the metric system being the most common of all standard measurement systems, helping your science students to understand these different measurements will help them tremendously in everyday life in the real world. If you’ve been looking for a way to address that complain middle school complaint of, “When am I ever going to use this?!” Teaching about the metric system is your chance!
Supplies for Teaching the Metric System:
In order to truly understand the metric system, you can’t solely rely on metric system worksheets. Practical application is key! Students need the opportunity to use metric system. In other words, you’ll want to plan a handful of labs and hands-on activities that give students the chance to measure various objects. In order to conduct these activities, you’ll need to collect a classroom set of measuring equipment that students can use for measuring activities.
- Metric ruler
- Meter stick
- Metric measuring tape
- Graduated cylinder
Ideas For Teaching The Metric System
Okay, now that we’ve all had a good “refresh” – let’s get down to business! The metric system is obviously an important concept within any science classroom…but HOW do we actually go about teaching this important lesson? Here are a few metric system lesson ideas for middle school:
Use Pneumonic Devices
Okay, this is clearly the oldest trick in the book…but with good reason! When it comes to remembering the metric prefixes (and the order they come in), crafting a witty pneumonic is a fun way to help your students memorize this important information. Here are two of my favorites:
King Henry Died Bloated Drinking Chocolate Milk
Kings Have Diamonds But Diamonds Cost Money
Metric Olympics Lab
This introductory lab is as fun as it is enriching! Middle school students will have a blast competing in series of “Olympic” activities, including shot-put, disc throwing, and javelin. Each event can be conducted in small groups as station activities. Students will take turns participating in each event and recording measurements and observations. Not only is this activity a great introduction to the metric system and building measurement skills, it’s also a fun opportunity to get your science classes outside and moving their bodies.
This activity has become a staple of my metric system unit plan and is truly one of my all-time favorite lesson plans. Not only will this activity help reinforce this important content knowledge, the day or two spent holding a “Metric System Olympics” will be the days your students remember fondly at the end of the year.
Metric Mania Unit
If you’ve never checked out The Science Spot, now is the time! This site is a wealth of lesson plans and unit ideas for all sorts of middle school science topics. The Science Spot has a Metric Mania unit that is a fantastic resource for teaching the metric system. This unit includes lesson plans focused on:
- Metric Conversions
This unit is packed with PowerPoint presentations, labs, worksheet practice, and review activities. The lessons in this unit are well-written and comprehensive. They are an excellent fit for students that have had some prior instruction and exposure to the metric system and are a great way to refresh and extend this prior knowledge. For students minimal metric system understanding, these lessons can be a bit complex and may require some simplification in order to be effective.
Metric Scavenger Hunt
For this activity, students need to use their best metric estimation skills to “hunt” for objects throughout the classroom. I provide students with a list of measurements (in centimeters and meters) and ask them to find objects they believe match the measurements provided.
Pizzazz Geometry Book
Pizzazz is a middle school mathematics textbook series that has an excellent Geometry book. (Yes, even Science teachers can use math textbooks.) Unlike the math textbooks of our childhoods, this book teaches important concepts using puzzle activities. Each puzzle is designed to provided meaningful and effective practice of these important measurement skills.
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