A Measure of Confusion

Typical timber frame joints
Typical timber frame joints

We had a visitor from New Zealand stay with us this summer.  While he was here he took a course on building in the Timber Frame construction style.  This involved heavy beams, mortise and tenon joints and lots of measuring.   His biggest frustration was the measuring. As he is from a metric nation, he had a very hard time with our system using inches and feet.  He had a hard time imagining what a 1/16 of an inch was and if 3/8 inch was bigger or smaller than 7/16.  With some work, he was able to finish the work and they came out great.

Students in school will be facing a similar challenge, but perhaps in reverse, as they will once again be meeting the metric system in their science classes.  In some ways the U.S. Customary system of weights and measures is much worse than any other countries.  We are stuck with a Frankenstein’s monster of measurements that involves a mishmash of systems from many different sources. We buy gasoline by the gallon, but soda by the liter.  Athletes play football on a 100-yard field, but they run the 100 meter dash in track and field.  We measure in fractions of an inch, until things get very small and then we use decimal measures, such as thousandths of an inch.ChemMatters Cover - Dec. 2014

This is the topic of an article I wrote for the December 2014 issue of ChemMatters magazine. ChemMatters is an award-winning magazine for high school chemistry, which aims to explain how chemistry works in our everyday lives. Each issue includes a Teacher’s Guide containing background information, follow-up hands-on activities, classroom demonstrations, and other resources to facilitate student comprehension.

In my article “A Measure of Confusion” I follow some the issues surrounding our current system of measures, including the loss of a NASA spacecraft that crashed instead of landing on mars. This was due to an incorrect conversion from English to metric units.

aact-logo
By the way, if you join the new American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT), you will receive a one-year subscription to ChemMatters as part of your membership.  And there is nothing confusion about that!
 

 

AACT: A Great Resource for Teachers of Chemistry

AACT logo The American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) officially launched in September. As a ChemClub advisor, you can further supplement your students’ chemistry experiences by joining for the annual fee of only $50, and preservice teachers can join at the discounted price of $25.

Some member benefits include being part of a community of K–12 teachers of chemistry, access to high-quality resources, and subscriptions to the ACS publication ChemMatters and the new AACT online periodical Chemistry Solutions, which is written by and for teachers of chemistry.

AACT’s website has collections of original multimedia that may be of interest to ChemClubs. AACT partnered with New York Times bestseller Sam Kean to bring his book “The Disappearing Spoon” to life—each short video in the series features Sam narrating a story inspired by his book about various elements.

There is also a series of videos about the founders of chemistry: Learn about Mendeleev’s journey to assemble the periodic table, the ancient chemists who paved the road for what chemistry is today, the first female Nobel Laureate Marie Curie’s life story, and others.

One mission of ChemClubs is to provide students with fun, authentic, and hands-on opportunities. The library of classroom resources on AACT’s site includes lessons from teachers across the country and around the world. Peruse the collection and try some of the demonstrations with your club members. Safety precautions in each lesson are outlined in detail, so if you have an outreach program, you can gauge right away whether the activity is appropriate for your students to run, or whether it should be facilitated by an instructor. AACT has a number of lessons that are designed for student-to-student interactions, including this cabbage activity. And if you have a great activity you’ve done with a club, you can submit it to the AACT library, and AACT will credit your ChemClub with its contribution.

Ferrous WheelIn each issue of Chemistry Solutions there is a column called Chemistry Fun! In the September issue, the column featured pictograms of phrases that were puns of chemistry concepts. For example, what is this? Your club members may get a kick out of activities included in this column.

You can subscribe to AACT email updates by completing the “Stay in Touch” field in the footer of teachchemistry.org. Or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for other news and information from AACT. We are excited to be part of the K–12 chemistry community, so share with us ideas you have by emailing AACT@acs.org.