MS Scientists Study Metric System In Maglio STEM Center

Middle School Science teacher Cheryl Bell begins the school year by stranding her students on a deserted island. The scientists are left without shelter or measuring tools in a strange land with no inhabitants as they are forced to create a new system of measurement to build a model hut for shelter. 

“I use this as one of my first challenges of the year because it is a fairly forgiving project (students tend to feel pretty successful having built something) and I can gauge their problem solving skills. It’s also a great way to train their minds to think in terms of metric units,” said Bell.

Students (safely housed in the new Maglio Family STEM Center) have to create their own base unit using tools available on the deserted island and figure out the metric prefixes that would go with it.  

“They then need to design a hut that will house each individual student (usually based on the tallest student in the class) and proportionally scale down the measurements using their new measuring system to create a model of that hut. They then have to try to persuade the rest of their classmates that their measuring system is the most versatile and that their hut design should be adopted by the entire group - with a persuasive presentation,” said Bell.

Bell said she loves this project because it takes everyone out of their comfort zone, encourages group communication and strategization, and teaches design and measurement. 

“They also are able to witness why it is so important to have a common measuring system (and how much easier it is when it is a base 10 system) for a community,” said Bell. 

Bell hopes her students learn prefixes in metric units, problem solving skills, and curiosity and wonder from conducting the experiment. 

“I feel like the entire project is STEAM oriented - we have the science of the metric system (our very first topic of this school year), and the technology of having to use their resources to create a physical model. They are engineering in that they have to problem-solve and find the right design with the right measurements. If their first design doesn't work, they have to re-evaluate. They are using math to convert units and proportionally scale their models. The A in STEAM comes with the art aspect and this also incorporates a bit of artistic ability in that they have to design a labeled graphic before they are allowed to build - while building the model itself can be a very artistic endeavor,” said Bell.

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