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Independence Metric Olympics Puts Math, Science Standards into Action

Independence Metric Olympics Puts Math, Science Standards into Action

Ask any fourth-grader at Independence Elementary what it takes to be an Olympic gold medalist and they’ll tell you it’s more than athletic prowess. That’s because an evolving fourth grade tradition crowns Olympic Champions based on their ability to make reasonable estimates of metric measurements. 

This month’s Mini Metric Olympics sent budding mathematicians and scientists on a rotation of “events” throughout the school that challenged their understanding of metric units of length, volume and mass. The stations all pointed back to fourth grade science and math learning standards that require students to solve measurement problems with metric units and convert from larger to smaller units, for example. 

“Just talking about measurement and the metric system does not automatically translate to understanding,” explained Independence teacher Jennifer Hall, who for the last three years has teamed up with fellow math and science teachers Susan Smith and Jennifer Garwood to make it a full grade-level experience. “Any time we can get our students actively engaged in their learning, they remember the content better, and they enjoy it, too!”

In one corner of the building, students became human scales, comparing a fistful of marbles to another handful of gram-based weights. At another station, students squeezed a saturated sponge of water into a bucket to estimate its total volume in liters. Out in the hallway, a long-jump competition had students guessing and then checking the metric length of their jump. Similarly, several events in the Innovation Hub involved launching cotton balls and paper plates to estimate the distance and use line plots to record data - fulfilling yet another math standard. 

At each stop, they compared their guesses to the actual measurements, forcing them to practice using metric-based tools like a meter stick, measuring cup and scale. 

“Instead of giving the kids a procedure to come up with answers without any sense of what is reasonable, this activity offers an opportunity for students to use and internalize the different measurements,” said Hall, explaining that the United States is one of just three countries using the customary system, making the metric system more difficult for them to grasp.

The fourth grade team expected to see their students making more accurate estimates as they progressed through the stations, but even more gratifying was hearing their students making that observation themselves. In the end, the three students with the smallest total gap between their estimated and actual measurements were celebrated with a small in-class ceremony that included the traditional Olympic fanfare song.

An added bonus is the involvement of many fourth grade parent volunteers in the different stations and the learning students gain from their presence. 

“When this event was held in the classroom with one teacher, there wasn’t always someone to help the kids individually,” Hall recalled. “Our volunteers can remind students to use the centimeter side instead of the inches side or guide them through a reasonable estimate in a way that one teacher could never manage to do for each student.”

  • curriculum
  • real world learning