Monday, August 11, 2008

Translate and Calculate

One of the most challenging aspects of this trip has been my need to adapt to the use of the Metric system of measurement instead of the English system.

What will the weather be today?
21 degree Celcius…
What does that mean?

Gasoline- $1.45 a liter
Is that cheap, expensive?

The speed limit maximum is 80 kilometers per hour.
So how fast is that?

It is 45 kilometers to Jasper.
So how far is that?

I understand the Metric system, have taught my students about the metric system, yet I am struggling to be able to use it effectively and efficiently within my daily life experiences while I am here in Canada.

I find that I am at a loss to identify any benchmark experience that I can use as my guide. It is my need to translate between the two systems that has me in a quandary. All of my teaching and learning has not been enough to help me use the metric system. I have not had enough experiences to solidify my understanding of what 21 degrees Celcius means in terms of helping to guide me in deciding what I should wear for the day’s weather.

How long will it take us to get to Jasper, if it is 45 kilometers away? My understanding of how long it will take to arrive at a destination is extricably linked to my lifetime experiences of how long it takes to travel somewhere whether I am traveling 60 miles an hour or 35mph.
These experiences drive home the problem with mathematics instruction. Math textbooks introduce a new concept every two pages. How can a student possibly understand the concept if they practice it only briefly? How can we help students develop a deeper understanding of the concepts?

What would it take for me to develop the same working conceptual knowledge of the Metric system as I have of the English system of measurement? How could we build these experiences into our students’ lives? Could we report the weather each day in both Fahrenheit and Celcius? Could we post distances on signs in both miles and kilometers?

But, the question also begs to be asked- should we?

The United States is bound to the English system of measurement, while most other countries uses the Metric system.

Do our students need to have more than the knowledge that there are two different systems of measurement?
To be able to navigate the world as global citizens, I say Yes!
We must help our students develop deeper understandings.
To continue to live in an UScentric mindset will not benefit them.

But, isn’t this also a similar problem with learning other languages?

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