Science Measures Up

By Ansberry, Karen; Morgan, Emily | Science and Children, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Science Measures Up


Ansberry, Karen, Morgan, Emily, Science and Children


Byline: Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan

Can you measure a dog's tail in dog biscuits? Can you measure a desk without a ruler? Which is better: measuring a room in paces or meters? Which system of measurement do scientists use? This month's column explores these questions and more to help learners understand why we use standard systems of measurement.

This Month's Trade Books

Measuring Penny By Loreen Leedy. Henry Holt and Company. 1997. ISBN 0805065725. Grades K-4 Synopsis Lisa learns about standard and nonstandard units of measurement by measuring her dog Penny with all sorts of units, including pounds, inches, dog biscuits, and cotton swabs.

How Tall, How Short, How Far Away By David A. Adler. Holiday House. 1999. ISBN 0823416321. Grades K-4 Synopsis Simple text and cartoonlike illustrations introduce the history of measurement systems, beginning in ancient Egypt and ending with the modern metric system.

Curricular Connections

The Science as Inquiry standard of the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) includes measurement as a fundamental ability necessary to do scientific inquiry. Students should be able to employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses. The National Science Education Standards also suggest that children develop some essential understandings about science and technology, including the idea that people throughout history have invented tools and techniques to solve their problems.

Weights and measures were among the first tools invented by man. Ancient people used their body parts and items in their surroundings as their first measuring tools. As societies evolved, measurements became more complex. By the 18th century, England had achieved a greater degree of standardization in measurement than other European countries. The English, or customary system of measurement commonly used in the United States, is nearly the same as that brought by the colonists from England.

The need for a single, worldwide measurement system was recognized in 1670 when a French priest named Gabriel Mouton proposed a measurement system (based on units of 10) that was both simple and scientific. However, a century passed and no action was taken. During the political upheaval of the French revolution in the 1790s, the French Academy of Sciences proposed a new system, based upon Mouton's, as a way to bring order to the confusing and often contradictory traditional systems of weights and measures that were being used throughout Europe. The metric system got its name from the unit of length, called a meter, which is derived from the Greek word meaning "a measure." The standardized structure and decimal features of the metric system made it well suited for scientific and engineering work, and wide acceptance of the metric system coincided with an age of rapid technological development. Although the English system of measurement is commonly used in everyday situations in the United States, scientists around the world primarily use the metric system (known as SI, from the French Systeme Internationale d'Unites) in their daily work.

Karen Ansberry (karen@pictureperfectscience.com) is the elementary science curriculum leader at Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio. Emily Morgan (emily@pictureperfectscience.com) is the science consultant at the Hamilton County Educational Service Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the authors of Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children's Books to Guide Inquiry, available from NSTA Press.

For Grades K-3: Measuring Pets

Engage: Ask, "Can you measure a dog's tail in dog biscuits?" Then show students the cover of the book Measuring Penny and explain that in this book, Lisa measures her dog Penny in a variety of ways. Make connections by asking students to share their own experiences with measuring, and then read Measuring Penny aloud to the class. Pause after reading pages 7 and 8 where Mr. …

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