Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer labs

It is surprising how different the summer and regular-semester students are.

It was our first lab, "Scientific Measurement." While I did have to show a few people which side of the ruler was metric (ack), I didn't have anyone shutting down and going, "I don't need to know this crap. I'm going to run my own business. I don't need to care about metric."

That kind of attitude frustrates me because there have been several occasions in my life where knowing "outside" information - that is, outside my basic field of study - has really helped me greatly. Most stuff you learn will not be wasted.

This group, though some of them may not have known which scale was metric (which surprises me a little, but then again, I was part of the "Metric by 1985!" generation, and maybe the educators have since given up on metric), once they figured out what they had to do, they did it without complaint.

One guy actually said, "Oh! I get it now! I never got it before!" when I showed him how you went from one decimal unit to another - like, centimeters to meters, or meters to kilometers. And he showed me that in fact he DID get it, by doing the rest of the questions correctly and showing me how he got his answers.

I don't know. Is there some kind of nativist sentiment against metric I don't know about? As a scientist, I use it all the time and have a decent handle on roughly what a meter is, a kilogram is, a liter is, etc., in terms of "how big" it would be. I often have to get after even my upper-division students because they want to measure things in feet and inches, and some of the formulas we use don't WORK with data in feet and inches. (If they do report the data in feet and inches, I make everyone in the class do the conversion with the data. For one thing, it's handy to know how to do it, for another, it might give a little positive peer pressure to the people NOT to do the measurement that way next time.)

I will say I don't have problems with the English or Imperial or whatever you call it system being used alongside metric, for some applications. - apparently some countries have effectively banned that system, but there are cases where it's useful. I still think of buying fabric in terms of yards and fractions of yards, and I do quilt cutting using inches. And in a lot of case, rejiggering a pattern to make it metric either would not work, or would not work smoothly. But I'm not sure I see why people can't think in and use both systems.

But metric is pretty much expected in the sciences! You don't have to like it, but that's the way it is.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

I remember being told as a kid that the U.S. eventually would switch over to using the metric system, too!

Did you ever see the PBS show Square One from the mid/late '80s? I was reminded of the music video where "Metric Electric" went up against the "Inch-stigator". . . and that's how I remember that centimeters are "slightly less than half an inch!" You should look up that video; you would enjoy it. Your students probably would, too.