365 Days of Earrings

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

America's Metric Future

We're beginning to focus on measurement tools in 3rd grade math this month, so I wore this great pair of measuring tape earrings--a birthday gift from my friend and colleague Debbie a couple of years ago. She saw them, and thought of me: Measurement. Tools. Earrings. Blue.

Early this morning, my students rolled a number on a 1-20 die, and wandered the classroom searching for an object that matched that number-- that was 2 or 12 or 20 centimeters long.

To photograph my earrings, I hung them on a metal L-square that I bought at an antique shop in Oil City, PA. As Debbie knew, I love measuring and I love tools.

I treasure many measurement tools that my dad taught me to use, some that my father-in-law used in his work, and even a few that belonged to my grandfather Richards. Now he was a measurement fanatic.

During the early 1900's, my grandfather (the man in the middle in this photograph from August 1920, holding my two-year-old dad's head between his hands) was an active participant in the American Metric Association. I think he was secretary at some point. He special-ordered a new car with a metric speedometer.

My dad told a story about how his father had returned home one night greatly amused by an experience he'd just had with a hitchhiker:

As my grandfather sped along the mountain roads of central PA, the hitchhiker eyed the 70's, 80's, even 90's on the speedometer, clinging to the door handle and the dashboard, and admonishing my grandfather to slow down. My grandfather explained repeatedly that 50 miles per hour would appear as 80 kilometers per hour on his metric speedometer. He told the man to relax, that he never exceeded the speed limit. When a stop sign finally forced them to stop, the hitchhiker leapt from  the car, saying, "It's OK, mister. I drive like a demon myself!"
My grandfather was convinced that America must adopt the metric system in order to become a truly successful scientific society. He spent his life following the "Ways to Win," trying to convince everyone to Go Metric. Yesterday, my husband John asked me whether I knew the names of the 3 nations on Earth that do not use the metric system. I could name only one: the United States of America. After a while, I guessed Burma. He had to tell me the 3rd: Liberia. Strange bedfellows!
I have a little measurement shrine hanging on my wall, with conversion charts, squares and angles, protractors and curves. I try to expose my 3rd graders to as many tools and charts and opportunitites to measure as I can. And I sing the praises of the metric system.
Our standard measures really put our students at a tremendous disadvantage. We waste so much time learning 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet to a yard, 1760 yards in a mile. Silly waste of time. My grandfather might look old-fashioned, but he saw that the metric system was the way of the future. Ninety years later, that future still eludes us.

1 comment:

Käthe said...

I LOVE the hitchhiker story and those earrings! Such an interesting topic... the metric system. We need to step it up in the US.