What are some one-to-one comparisons of standard and metric units?
May 2, 2015 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a resource or, failing that, some outright suggestions of one-to-one comparisons for standard and metric units. I am tutoring a third grader with some learning disabilities who needs a simple visualization. In other words, I'm looking for a resource that says, "A meter is as long as a dalmatian" or "a foot is as big as your dad's foot." This is less easily googleable than I expected. Things like Scale of the Universe are neat, but I need a simple one-to-one relationship.

Any of the following units would be especially welcome. If you have others (or if I left out anything a third or fourth grader really ought to know), please make suggestions for those, too!

Standard Units
1) inch
2) foot
3) yard
4) mile

1) Cup
2) Pint
3) Quart
4) Gallon
5) Ounce

1) Pound
2) Ounce
3) Ton

Metric units
1) gram
2) milligram
3) kilogram

1) millimeter
2) centimeter
3) meter
4) kilometer
posted by Alex Haist to Education (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here are some metric reference points from XKCD Also NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) has a site on learning metric here.
posted by Zedcaster at 3:58 PM on May 2, 2015

Traditionally an inch is the length of the ball of your thumb, a foot is a foot, a yard is the distance from the tip of your nose to your outstretched finger, and a mile is a thousand paces (not steps).

BTW, a neat thing: a litre of water weighs a kilo. Which means a cubic metre of water weighs a tonne.
posted by Leon at 4:11 PM on May 2, 2015

I think it would probably work best to grab the measuring tools (volume measuring cup, meter stick, yard stick, (or maybe a measuring tape), scale) with the kid and go around the house/wherever you are tutoring and measure things together. Then when they make notes you can draw the objects you find next to the measurement (ie, if a dalmatian is 1 meter draw the dog and then write 1 meter next to it). I would also add in a measuring line in the correct dimension for clarity (1 m is from snout to tip tail not from top to bottom).

This takes a little more effort than just providing a scale online, but if the kid has multiple learning disabilities they may appreciate a hands-on approach. If you do decide to use a scale you find online, make sure it meshes with what your student can see in their own environment. For example, a foot may be roughly 1 foot in an adult, but that's not going to be the case for your average 3rd grader.
posted by Mouse Army at 4:17 PM on May 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

1) inch – converts to about 2.5 centimeters (2.54 to be exact, iirc).
2) foot – American paper money is six inches long, so two dollar bills end-to-end is one foot. This is helpful for some people in part because money is very familiar.

1) Cup, pints, etc —There are two cups in a pint, two pints in a quart, four quarts in gallon. Get a large (4 cup) measuring cup and some smaller measuring cups and pour water back and forth? Cooking is also a good way to get familiar with this type of thing.
3) Quart – You can find the quart sizes of milk. Also, a liter is slightly more than a quart. They are pretty close together.
4) Gallon – Jug of milk

1) millimeter – it is like 2 thicknesses of an adult fingernail, roughly
3) meter – this is about a handspan longer than a yard. A yard is 36 inches and a meter is about 40 inches.

For things like grams and ounces, I might try to find a small scale and use coins to get an idea of how many quarters or dimes are in an ounce or gram or whatever. I know a kilogram is 2.2 pounds, so I am pretty good on guestimating a conversion, but I have a strong math background and so on.

I will second the suggestion to take measures of familiar objects the kid has in their day-to-day to life. I have two special needs kids that I homeschooled. One has dyscalculia and serious challenges with numbers and spatial relationships. It is really helpful to compare measures to things he has first hand experience interacting with (like six inches is the length of a dollar bill).
posted by Michele in California at 4:33 PM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: In science class we learned that 1 gram is about the weight of a paper clip. Wolfram Alpha is one source for these types of comparisons. The Measure of Things is another.
posted by oceano at 4:43 PM on May 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

A pint's a pound.
A pint of water weighs approximately a pound. Since there are eight pints in a gallon a gallon weighs approximately eight pounds.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:58 PM on May 2, 2015

There's also the little mnemonics the UK government came up with when they went to metric e.g.:
"Two and a quarter pounds of jam, weighs about a kilogramme."
"A metre measures three foot three - it's longer than a yard, you see."
(But watch out for differences between imperial & US Customary units. e.g.
UK - "a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter", vs
US - "a pint's a pound the world around"
… which cocks up the "A litre of water's a pint and three quarters" ditty.)
posted by Pinback at 5:37 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

A plain M&M weighs a gram. A (US) dollar bill weights a gram.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:47 PM on May 2, 2015

This is very old, but may help.

posted by 4ster at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

A liter is a quart and a "liter" bit more!
posted by hwyengr at 8:21 PM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: Some of the suggestions here are great (like an inch being about the length of a thumb pad or a millimetre being the thickness of two thumbnails) but they are also things that won't necessarily apply to a third grader, who isn't a fully grown person. But maybe his thumb pad equals a centimetre? And maybe his outstretched arms would equal a metre?
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:05 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't ask about Celsius, but I am sharing this very helpful rhyme I found on the intertubes: 30 is hot, 20 is nice, 10 is cold, 0 is ice.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:38 AM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

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