Friday, July 27, 2012

Is America's Mediocre (At Best) Science Scores Due To Not Using The Metric System?

In my opinion, the answer is yes, in part.  We spend the first couple of weeks of chemistry class going over measurement in general.  Over half of that time is spent on the Metric System some of which they already 'learned' in other science courses.   I put learned in quotes because many students were not comfortable with it since they do not use it once they leave the classroom.

I use analogies to describe concepts, as most science teachers do.  For example, when talking about the fundamental concept of density which is mass divided by volume, common units for chemistry are grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3).  I may ask a student to estimate the density of water using those units, they would at a loss, however, if I said use pounds per cubic feet (lbs/ft3) they would probably have a guess that is close to the answer of 63 lbs/ft3.  This makes analogies that much harder to because then I have to have the students convert these units to the Metric System.  This is where I lose a significant number of students as it adds another layer of mathematical minutia that would not exist if we were using the Metric System.  Incidentally, it is not an accident that the density of water in the Metric System is 1.0 g/cm3 but the reasons why the Metric System is so much better is a discussion for a later post!

Most (or maybe all) of my students from other countries perform much better than the U.S. born students.  A few years ago a former student moved to CT from Albania.  She joined the class after the first marking period and barely spoke any English.  I was thinking to myself "how is this student going to function not speaking English?"  However, it soon became apparent that I when started putting equations on the board, she saw and understood the familiar units and ended up being the curve breaker.  Her math skills along with her knowledge of the Metric System allowed her to succeed.

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