December 2014 Teacher's Guide for a measure of Confusion Table of Contents



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December 2014 Teacher's Guide for
A Measure of Confusion
Table of Contents



About the Guide 2

Student Questions 3

Answers to Student Questions 4

Anticipation Guide 6

Reading Strategies 7

Background Information 9

Connections to Chemistry Concepts 21

Possible Student Misconceptions 21

Anticipating Student Questions 22

In-Class Activities 22

Out-of-class Activities and Projects 26

References 26

Web Sites for Additional Information 28

General Web References 33

More Web Sites on Teacher Information and Lesson Plans 33

About the Guide

Teacher’s Guide editors William Bleam, Regis Goode, Donald McKinney, Barbara Sitzman and Ronald Tempest created the Teacher’s Guide article material. E-mail: bbleam@verizon.net


Susan Cooper prepared the anticipation and reading guides.

Patrice Pages, ChemMatters editor, coordinated production and prepared the Microsoft Word and PDF versions of the Teacher’s Guide. E-mail: chemmatters@acs.org

Articles from past issues of ChemMatters can be accessed from a DVD that is available from the American Chemical Society for $42. The DVD contains the entire 30-year publication of ChemMatters issues, from February 1983 to April 2013.
The ChemMatters DVD also includes Article, Title and Keyword Indexes that covers all issues from February 1983 to April 2013.
The ChemMatters DVD can be purchased by calling 1-800-227-5558.
Purchase information can be found online at www.acs.org/chemmatters.

Student Questions


    1. What was the first indication NASA had that the Mars Climate Orbiter was in trouble?

    2. And what WAS the problem?

    3. Why do societies even have and use units?

    4. Over man’s history, why were there so many different systems of units for measurement?

    5. What factor is responsible for developing the need for international standardization in measurement systems?

    6. Name two measurement units that were based on varying or variable “standards”.

    7. What was the goal of the metric system when it was first developed?

    8. Discuss one major advantage of the metric (or SI) system over all the other conventional systems in existence at the time (1799).

    9. Cite two examples of units of measure used by countries that have adopted the metric system that are not metric-based.

    10. Internationally, how widespread is the adoption of the metric system?

    11. What has prevented the U.S. from adopting the metric system wholesale?
    12. What one consideration is pushing the U.S. to adopt the metric system wholesale?


    13. In the U.S., industries frequently use both U.S. Customary units and metric system units to measure their consumer products. List two examples of this.



Answers to Student Questions


      1. What was the first indication NASA had that the Mars Climate Orbiter was in trouble?

The first indication NASA had that there was a problem was when flight controllers couldn’t detect a signal from the Orbiter when it was expected to come out from behind the planet.

      1. And what WAS the problem?

The problem with the orbiter was that engineers had made an error when converting between metric and English units. Pound-force-seconds, a unit of impulse and momentum in the English system of measurement, was used instead of Newton-seconds—the unit of impulse and momentum in the metric system.

      1. Why do societies even have and use units?

Units are used by societies in “… trade and commerce, land division, taxation, and scientific research…”

      1. Over man’s history, why were there so many different systems of units for measurement?

Different systems of measurement units were developed by individual societies for their own purposes, usually involving local trade—long before there was international trade or widespread inter-societal communication.

      1. What factor is responsible for developing the need for international standardization in measurement systems?

According to the article, development of international trade spurred the need for an internationally standardized system of measurement.


      1. Name and describe two measurement units that were based on varying or variable “standards”.

Two units of measurement (and more) that were based on varying “standards” are:

        1. The cubit, which was based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger.

        2. The yard, which was the distance from the tip of King Henry I of England’s nose to the end of his outstretched thumb.

        3. The grain was the mass of one grain of a grain type (very variable).

        4. A
          span was three palms.

        5. A palm was four digits.

      1. What was the goal of the metric system when it was first developed?

According to the article, “The basic concept of the metric system was to adopt a system of uniform base units that serve as the foundation for decimal-based derived units. The derived units were identified by a standard set of prefixes for larger or smaller divisions of the base unit.”

      1. Discuss one major advantage of the metric (or International System of Units—SI) system over all the other conventional systems in existence at that time (1799).

A primary advantage of the metric system over all other systems in use at the time was that its units reflected all distances, from astronomical distances (e.g., between planets) to sub-microscopic distances (e.g., between atoms. (Most other systems were based solely on measurements on a “human-size scale”.)

      1. Cite two examples of units of measure used by countries that have adopted the metric system that are not metric-based.

Two non-metric-based units (and then some) used by countries that have adopted the metric system are:


  1. In the United Kingdom, distance is still measured in miles, height in feet and inches (instead of kilometers, meters and centimeters), and units of weight used are stones and pounds (instead of Newtons).

  2. In Argentina, Chile and Australia, tire pressure is still measured in pounds per square inch (psi), the British Imperial System unit for pressure, instead of Pascals (Pa), the SI unit for pressure.

  3. Some countries in northern Europe still use inches and feet (and hence, “2 by 4s” for construction), instead of meters and centimeters.

  4. Worldwide, automobile wheel diameters are measured in inches while tire tread depth is measured in millimeters.

  5. Worldwide, racing bike frames are measured in centimeters, while mountain bike frames are measured in inches.

      1. Internationally, how widespread is the adoption of the metric system?

The metric system has been adopted by all countries worldwide except Burma, Liberia and the United States.

      1. What has prevented the U.S. from adopting the metric system wholesale?

The author says that the reason the metric system hasn’t been adopted in the U.S. is that the federal government hasn’t mandated its use, including the ban of the old U.S. Customary system. Of course, inertia also plays a role; we keep using what we are familiar with—few of us embrace change!

      1. What one consideration is pushing the U.S. to adopt the metric system wholesale?

The one factor that might push the U.S. into adopting the metric system is international trade. If every other country uses metric measurements, the U.S. will be (and is being) forced to use metric measurements in its products if it wants to continue trading with other countries.


      1. In the U.S., industries frequently use both U.S. Customary units and metric system units to measure the same consumer product. List two examples of this.

Two examples (plus one more—all shown somewhere in the article) of using both types of units for the same consumer product are:

        1. Teaspoons and milliliters for dispensing medicine

        2. Liters and quarts to measure volume of liquids (e.g., milk or other drinks).

        3. Speedometers show speed in both miles per hour (m/hr) and kilometers per hour (km/hr).

        4. Others the student might be familiar with could include:

  1. Liquids like soups and soaps, juices and energy drinks, all measured both in fluid ounces and milliliters

  2. Dry goods (e.g., cereals, cake mixes or potato chips) measured both in ounces and grams

  3. String, rope, dental floss or ribbon measured both in yards or feet and meters





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