Creating a Unit of Measure to Teach Measurement
Posted June 6, 2011on:
There has been a lot of talk on the NSTA Physics list server lately regarding a way to teach a measurement lab. I had one of my morning shower brainstorms. My thoughts went to the story of the MIT students measuring a bridge using a unit of measurement called the “Smoot,” named for Oliver Smoot.
I think many of us teaching a measurement lab have the same problem. The students don’t understand measuring or estimating. Given an object, they will always have the same answer, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. So I am hereby creating a lab using fictitious units. We will use a willing volunteer from each lab group and declare his or her height to be one “Smith” or “Jones” or whatever his or her name happens to be. We will then do some exercises to estimate fractional distances. I think I will give them string and make them use a meter stick to get a measurement of the “Smith.” They will need to figure out how to divide the string into tenths and hundredths and then estimate to the thousandths. I won’t tell them how to do it, they are going to need to figure it out on their own.
My hope is that they will come up with their own method and get a better understanding of estimation. The beauty of an inquiry lab is how little detail they get from me. Personally, I’m excited about this one. I think we are looking at a first or second day of school lab here.
Here is my first pass at the lab handout. Lab 00 – Measurement Lab
You can read about Oliver Smoot and hear an NPR interview here.