January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

The Metric System Stair-Step Conversion Practice

Posted: Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

by Amanda L. Smith

Gardener’s: Linguistic; Visual-Spatial; Bodily-Kinesthetic; Interpersonal; Logical-Mathematical
Bloom’s: Knowledge; Comprehension; Application

CA State Standards:
Investigation and Experimentation (Middle School grades 6-8)

Anticipatory Set/Objective:

  • Students will be able to: State the values of and abbreviations for each of the prefixes used in the metric system.
  • Students will be able to: Convert from one subunit to another subunit within a given unit of the metric system.

Key Vocabulary:
Length: the longest dimension of an object

Mass: the amount of matter in an object

Volume: the amount of space an object takes up

Gram: base unit of measure used for mass in the metric system

Liter: base unit of measure used for volume in the metric system

Meter: base unit of measure used for length in the metric system

Milli-: a prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one thousandth (10-3)

Centi-: a prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one hundreth (10-2)

Deci-: a prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one tenth (10-1)

Deka-: a prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of ten (101)

Hecto–: a prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one hundred (102)

Kilo: a prefix in the metric system denoting a factor of one thousand (103)


Introduction & Modeling:
Students will be shown a metric ruler and meter stick, and asked how these are organized. The teacher will explain that every metric device is arranged in factors of 10 (e.g., 10 cm = 100 mm; 1 m = 100 cm). This will be the basis of the lecture and further conversion discussions in class.

Guided Practice:
Students will be given the Metric System Stair-Step Conversion Practice worksheet, and the teacher will go over the basic conversion step method. Teacher can verbally say, “to the left, you divide!” and “to the right, multiply!” with enthusiasm while explaining to the class.

Use an overhead projector, digital projector, or draw the stair-step image on the whiteboard to help the students visualize how to move about the stair steps as you demonstrate the example problems with the class. Make sure to verbalize the phrases (as shown above) for each example problem you do with the class, and have your students use your finger to move from step-to-step with you as you demonstrate on the board.

If you want to add in one additional learning tool, ask your students to stand up behind their desk chair, and prepare them for the Metric Mantra and Dance. Recite the following example aloud to the class: “Okay class, we are going to convert from gram to kilogram…so we will dance/shuffle/move to the LEFT 3 times…here we go!”. (as the students move to the left, have them recite “to the left, to the left, to the left…MULTIPLY!” as they move the 3 steps). Do a few of these conversions while the students move to the left or right, and have them recite the mantra while they move through the classroom. This is a great way for the students to gain a basic understanding of how many times to move left or right (moving to the right, say, “to the right, to the right…WE DIVIDE!”. This will take some practice, but students will have a better understanding of the metric conversions if you put in the time. (plus, students always love to get up and move around when it is constructive learning).

Independent Practice:
Students will do seat work practice problems (options: mini whiteboards and dry erase markers are always fun and provide quick informal assessment; pencil and paper worksheet(s); or teacher can put problems on the board for students to do on their own). After students complete the assignment, make sure to provide answers to each practice problem, and demonstrate on the board how to use the stair-step method (and maybe even throw in a few dance moves and mantra reciting if the students are doing a good job!).

Near the end of the class, review with students the steps you need to follow to make metric to metric conversions by randomly calling on students. Then the teacher will give each student a post it note (or just a small half sheet of paper will be fine), then write one last problem on the board such as 0.000652 kg = _______ mg and ask students to write their answer to the problem.(Personally, I would try to make it a more challenging problem) . As students leave they will hand the teacher their post-it note with their answer. (This will give you one more quick chance to assess their understanding, and see if they are able to do a more complex problem before tomorrow’s lesson or to be able to complete tonight’s homework).

Provide students with a brief history of the attempts of the United States to convert to the metric system, and some of the debates that occurred. (The teacher may want to use this website, http://www.metric4us.com/why.html to create a handout or PowerPoint presentation to introduce the topic.)

Students will do a free-write using these discussion questions as a guideline: Why do you think it would be so hard for the United States to switch to the metric system? Do you think it is in the country’s best interest to overcome these difficulties? Why or why not? Do you think it is confusing that the United States uses a different measuring system from the rest of the world? What kinds of problems arise because of the use of a different measuring system?

Extra Credit or Extension Activity for Gifted Students:
Students will write a story, journal entry, or letter about a typical day if they were to wake up in a world that used only the metric system. The teacher will encourage the students to include more examples of metric measurements in their daily life, such as speed limit signs and the price of gas per liter.

Amanda L. Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and a member of CSTA.


Written by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. could you put the stair step method on this website please

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California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.