Return from TED (Part 3): Networking, Canada and the Metric System

American product, metric-only label

American product in Canadian  market, metric-only label

I want to acknowledge how wonderful all the TED Active attendees and staff were. Given the TED philosophy of “Ideas worth spreading,” it’s not surprising that everyone I talked to about metric system adoption in the U.S. were either sympathetic (if not from the U.S.) or interested (if they were Americans). I met a lot of friendly and interesting people and hope to keep in touch with many of them.

Metric system observations in Canada

I hadn’t been to Canada for a long time (though I used to live across river from it when I grew up in Detroit) so I was curious what I’d see in person with my metric system radar on. My understanding was that Canada (like the U.K.) was a “soft adoption” county.

American company, dual labeling and use of French

American company and dual labeling  Don’t know that I’ve ever seen “liq” before. I’m told that it’s the French “onces liquides’ or fluid ounces.

In this case, soft adoption refers to countries that use solely metric units in some instances but both Imperial and metric units for other applications. It’s one of the reasons that the “Turn the UK Fully Metric Now” exists in Great Britan. Sure enough, on the bus ride up to Whistler, B.C. from Vancouver, B.C. I saw nothing but kilometer signs on the roads. However, I did make it a point to visit the little store near my hotel and snapped a couple of shots on my cell phone to confirm my suspicions about the use of both units. Yes, some food products had only metric mentions (or SI as it is known to the rest of the world for “Système International d’Unités ) but many items had dual labeling (plus French, of course).

Another American product with metric-only labeling

Another American product with metric-only labeling

According to a Canadian history site:

Metric units steadily became normal for most products and services. However, certain areas of business did hold out against conversion, such as real estate.

As I related in a previous blog, when I had a phone interview with the head of the U.K. Metric Association, and I asked him why Britain wasn’t fully metric, his reply was along the lines of “Because you’re not.” That comment prompted my piece on how our country sets a bad international example.

Successes and failures

I found out a few weeks ago that I wasn’t accepted for the Women’s Salon for the TEDxABQ event but that didn’t stop me from applying for the big TEDxABQ event that will be held this fall. If I can get in, that would be great because it has an audience of about 2,000 people. I’ve had quite a few successes recently. Getting turned down for one presentation doesn’t faze me much these days.

Thanks for staying tuned!

Linda

Return from TED – (Part 2): I made a presentation, albeit to a small audience

As I wrote previously, TED Active certainly was. In fact, it was exhausting. With about 50 different talks during the week (starting as early as 8:15 a.m. and running through 7 p.m.) it was difficult to keep up. I’m fairly sure not everyone managed to catch every talk. A few days I ago I received a link to the unedited talks so I can watch the ones I missed.

Of course, the picture I could find of myself has me resting my eyes. (Really, I remember this talk.)

Of course, the only picture I could find of myself in the Flickr feed has me resting my eyes. (Really, I remember this talk on extending human senses.)

On Tuesday (3/17) there was an opportunity to sign up for a fifteen-minute salon* on Thursday to either give a talk or curate* one. I really hadn’t intended on presenting anything myself but I went ahead and signed up. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say, but I’ve given talks on our metric system problems before—just not to an international audience—and would need a different take on what message I wanted them to leave the presentation with.

Name badges (with photo) were scrupulously checked every time you entered

Name badges (with photo) were scrupulously checked every time you entered the venue. They included a sensor that was read electronically.

Those who had signed up for the salons (there were five of us in all) received an email late Wednesday that if we wanted to have visuals, we needed to get them to the coordinator by 6 p.m. that evening. By the time I got back to my hotel room, I had about an hour to pull something together.

I was able to grab images I’d used for previous presentations, so I hurriedly pulled together nine slides including a cover slide titled: The United States and Metric System Adoption: What’s the Deal? I managed to submit them with 20 minutes to spare.

From then on, I skipped TED activities so I could rehearse for Thursday afternoon. (More than once I considered I must be nuts to present to people who been watching professionally-coached talks all week.) I had decided I’d talk for 10 minutes and then open it up to questions and comments. I really wanted to hear what people from other countries would have to say on the subject. I didn’t think I’d get a large audience since there were concurrent events taking place, however, I’d have a chance to answer a question I’d had for myself: “What could I say about why the United States wasn’t using the metric system?”

I’d designed the slides before I’d really had a chance to think about what I was going to say so I tried to pull together a cohesive message to go with the visuals. I knew I didn’t have time to get the presentation perfect but I decided to treat it like an audition for a TED talk so I kept at it. I knew the salon talks would be recorded and I might be able to leverage that if there weren’t any restrictions on use. (Oh, and as long as I did a halfway decent job.)

I was the first person to talk during the session and the audience had grown to about 30 people by the time I finished. My final slide was a call to action: If you’re American, please be aware of our situation and help us move toward metric adoption. If you’re not, please stop enabling us. If you are really worried about us “not getting” a weight or measure, don’t include our measures. Instead, use the metric measure and then tell us it’s “about the height of the Eiffel Tower,” or “about the weight of three medium apples,” and take away our crutch so we better realize we’re out of step. When I’d finished, the reception was quite warm.

There were three zones, the auditorium (cell phones off) and area outside of the auditorium (where I spent most of my time) and the lobby where talking was allowed.

There were three zones to watch the streaming  TED talks, the auditorium (cell phones off) and area outside of the auditorium (where I spent most of my time) and the lobby where talking was allowed.

At the end of my presentation I did have time for questions. The first one I got was “How long did you think it would take to convert?” My answer, based on various things I’d seen over the years, was that five years was a reasonable time frame.

Another person mentioned the fact that we destroyed a Mars orbiter back in 1999 due to the confusion of two teams using both metric and U.S. customary measures. It literally crashed into the surface of the planet. I’ve updated the full costs associated with the mission and it comes close to a $1 billion dollar loss.

A news release from the time noted:

The peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team used English units (e.g., inches, feet and pounds) while the other used metric units for a key spacecraft operation. This information was critical to the maneuvers required to place the spacecraft in the proper Mars orbit.

I did specifically ask for feedback from someone who was in the audience for my whole talk. He told me he’d coached people for TEDx talks and the only thing he’d change was the visuals.

Hey, it was the best I could do in less than a hour.

Thanks,

Linda

* TED terminology

Return from TED (Part 1)

I recently spent almost a week at TED Active and it was pretty amazing. Not just the talks but also the people who attended. If you’re not familiar with the TED format, visit TED.com or check your Netflix listings. In essence, they are short talks (mostly under 18 minutes) that emphasize communicating directly with the audience with the use of minimal “slides.” The subjects can be almost anything, but “ideas worth spreading” is the main thrust. The new and innovative are the order of the day for attendee/presenters like Bill Gates and other leaders.

Prepping for the TED event to start the next day

Prepping for the TED event to start the next day

I was able to go to TEDActive as a previous TEDx (an independently licensed TED) event organizer. As such, myself and a couple of hundred TEDx-ers arrived on Saturday, went to workshops on Sunday and were then transported from Vancouver (where the main TED event was slated to begin the next day) up to Whistler, B.C. Canada for our parallel activities.

Chris Anderson (TED curator) addresses us in Vancouver on March 15.

Chris Anderson (TED curator) addresses us in Vancouver on March 15.

During our Sunday in Vancouver, Chris Anderson (the curator of TED) gave us a presentation on various aspects of TEDx in the auditorium where the TED event would kick off the next day. He had asked for feedback on the venue and I had an observation I was going to email him. Then, lo and behold, I saw him a meter away from me so I stopped to share my comment in person (the observation itself had to do with the side screens behind the speakers). I then introduced myself and gave him the More Than a Mile Behind business card, saying that I was working on a history of the metric system in the United States. “Does it have a history?” or words to that effect, was his response. I started to give my Thomas Jefferson line about our dimes and pennies, but some other people came up and his attention went elsewhere.

Where TED Active met in Whistler, B.C.

Where TED Active met in Whistler, B.C.

TEDActive had its own venue in the conference center, complete with giveaways, food and a live stream of the talks from Vancouver with periodic shout outs by Anderson.

Activities were scheduled every day from break of dawn to 10-11 p.m. with the talks starting around 8 a.m. While I was there, I met people from all over the planet.

TED had a wonderful app to keep track of everything and communicate with each other

TED had a wonderful app to keep track of everything and communicate with each other

Later in the week, there were presentations about potentially great things on the horizon but that might eventually lead to our doom. He asked the audience to respond.

Just for the heck of it, I went ahead and sent in an email. I figured the chance of mine seeing the light of day was slim since, in total, there were about 1,000 people watching at that moment. How wrong I was! Right before the break for lunch he read three emails, and mine was one of them along with the mention of my name.  My response:

Subject:  Change is neither all good or bad

Every time there is change on the horizon there is talk of the doom it will bring.

This has been going on for centuries.

As in the past, progress will bring the negative with it but overall it will be for the good.

I wouldn’t want to go back prior to the industrial revolution (for one example).

Would you?

There’s more but it will need to wait until next week.

Stay tuned.

Thanks,

Linda

MidSchoolMath, TED and the Metric System

MiddleSchoolMath Conference

The next MidSchool Math conference is already in the planning stages

The MidSchoolMath Conference where I spoke last month

Last month I spoke for a second year at the MidSchoolMath Conference in Santa Fe. The intent of the conference is to help teachers avoid the drop in scores in math that typically occur once students enter middle school. It’s an admirable effort, which is why I’ve spoken there the last two years. I’m huge supporters of the folks behind these efforts and hope you will too. For more information about the work of the organizers visit the Imagine Education site.

I made a different presentation this year than I did last time, so it required some more preparation, particularly in light of some new research that came into my hands on just how much of our students’ time that might be wasted in the classroom. I’ll write more about that research at a later date.

I had a smaller session than last year, probably because there were more concurrent sessions during my time slot this year, and bad weather stopped a lot of people from attending the conference. As a result, I only had 17 people in my session this time (compared with almost 50 last year). Still, they were an attentive audience, backing up my assertions and answering questions I couldn’t (I don’t teach mid-school math, after all).

A few people filled out the feedback forms and entered comments along the lines of “Keep up the good fight” and some signed up to be on the distribution list for my project’s email list. I really appreciate the feedback and support.

Hopefully, I’ll be invited back again next year. I’m always happy to present to any audience I can get to without costing me large sums of money.

TED

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

I’m going to TED!

Next weekend I’m flying to Vancouver, BC, Canada to attend TED. (For those of you not familiar with the TED talk format, I strongly encourage you to check out their offerings. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of them? Check out the top 20 most popular talks here.)

If you know what TED is, this is a big deal. Even if you have the funds to go, TED gets to invite who it wants to attend. I had an edge since I organized a corporate TEDx event for my employer last year. (A TEDx talk is a licensed, independently organized TED talk.)

Since I’m going on my own dime (and not on behalf of my employer), I’ll be in a position to promote the pro-metric work I’m engaged in, including the documentary. TED is no run-of-the-mill conference, and with the motto of “Ideas worth spreading,” I can’t think of a more open group of people with whom to share the vision of a fully metric America and all the advantages it confers.

I’ve already identified some of the folks I’m hoping to reach out to from organizations like Target, Google and Cisco, among others. My hope is that large, U.S. companies with a stake in our future workforce will be both keenly interested in what the metric system has to offer as well as receptive to learning how we’ve hampered ourselves through our lack of its adoption.

Speaking of TED, I applied to give a talk related to metric system adoption at the TEDxABQ Women’s salon in May. I should find out later this month if I’ve been selected. I also plan to apply for the big TEDxABQ event scheduled for this fall. If I’m selected for either of these, it would provide me with the opportunity to reach hundreds of people who are looking to change the way we look at the world.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

There are more developments on the horizon, so stay tuned and join my mailing list if you want the latest information. Just send an email to milebehind@gmail.com with the subject “Subscribe.”

Thanks to all of you who care about this important topic.

Linda

Medicine and the Metric System

Allow me to present my main point upfront: we are endangering our health by not adopting the metric system in this country.

Prescriptions are written in metric units. Conversions (and possible errors) are made at the pharmacy.

Doctors write prescriptions in metric units. Conversions (and potential errors) are made at the pharmacy.

Let me offer up a couple of examples that hopefully makes this clear. It’s important to understand that the medical field depends on metric units (as does most of science, for that matter). If healthcare workers talk in metric units and the public at large rely on U.S. customary units there is bound to be confusion and misunderstandings. That’s best avoided where your heath is concerned since the consequences could be dire.

Metric unit dosing is more precise

Last year Pediatrics (Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) published an article called “Unit of Measurement Used and Parent Medication Dosing Errors.”1 One of the article’s bottom lines:

Parents who used milliliter-only unit made fewer dosing errors than those who used teaspoon or tablespoon units. Moving to a milliliter-only standard could reduce confusion and decrease medication errors, especially for parents with low health literacy and non-English speakers.

While a minor mistake (whether too much or too little medication) might not make a huge difference for an otherwise healthy adult, these errors can be magnified for babies or those whose health is already compromised.

Most of our teaspoons and tablespoons are meant for eating, not dosing

No on should use "silverware" as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine to avoid dosing errors.

No on should use “silverware” as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine if they want to avoid dosing errors.

Another issue brought up in the piece was that the use of teaspoon and tablespoon employed for liquid medicines “may endorse kitchen spoon use.” I don’t know about you, but I have three sets of measuring spoons and many more spoons that I use for eating commonly referred to as “teaspoons” and “tablespoons.” The problem is, it’s the eating spoons that are often used to measure medicines. (Yes, I used to do that too, without even thinking about it.) If you have a dosing cup with only milliliters, the potential for confusion is greatly reduced.

As if that’s not bad enough

Even your actual measuring spoons aren’t as precise as you think they are. At one point I came across information indicating that up to a 20 percent variance is allowed. Again, that 20 percent could cause dosing errors. In researching this article I came across a page called “Cooking for Engineers” with the post:

I’ve got three sets of measuring spoons, and their measurements differ from each other, up to 1/4 teaspoon! Is there a way to know which (if any), are accurate?

The suggestions that followed involved scales and the temperature at which one should measure the water used to determine volume. Too bad no one suggested going metric.

Additional endorsement of the metric system for health reasons

I also have a document from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) called 2014-15 Targeted Medication Safety Best Practices for Hospitals2 . Two of its best practices mention sole use of metric system units.

Best Practice 3: Measure and express patient weights in metric units only.

The rationale:

Significant medication errors have occurred when the patients’ weight is documented in non-metric units of measure (e.g., pounds) and it has been confused with kilograms (or grams). Numerous mistakes have been reported when practitioners convert weights from one measurement system to another, or weigh a patient in pounds but accidently document the value as kilograms in the medical record, resulting in more than a two-fold error.

Best Practice 5: Purchase oral liquid dosing devices (oral syringes/cups/droppers) that only display the metric scale.

ISMP has received more than 50 reports of mix-ups between milliliter (mL) and household measures such as drops and teaspoonfuls, some leading to injuries requiring hospitalization.

Beware teaspoon and tablespoon instructions on prescriptions

Almost uniformly, prescriptions are written in metric units. However, if you pick up a liquid prescription and the dose on the bottle is not metric (and in reads teaspoon and tablespoons), the pharmacy has had to make a conversion. Where there are conversions, there is the potential for mistakes.

In addition, one of the top six recommendations in the 15th annual report of the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention3 includes a “Statement of support for use of the metric system to dose medications.”

Advocate for the metric system and help make the country a healthy place!

Thanks,

Linda

Notes: The article itself requires a subscription http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/134/2/e354.full.pdf. However, a summary is located here: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Reducing-Medication-Dosing-Errors-by-Ditching-Teaspoons-and-Tablespoons.aspx.
2 http://www.ismp.org/tools/bestpractices/TMSBP-for-Hospitals.pdf
3  
http://www.nccmerp.org/sites/default/files/fifteen_year_report.pdf

Metric System Temperature in Celsius and Rhyme

[Note: There is a poll at the end of this blog. Please participate!]

To me, the most difficult part of the using the metric system day-to-day is getting used to the Celsius measure of temperature.

I changed the weather app on my phone more than a year ago so it’s much easier for me to use Celsius now, especially when you consider that 0° C is freezing. I know what freezing is, regardless of what system is employed. At the other end, 100° C is boiling instead of our 212° Fahrenheit. Since it’s slightly imprecise (compared to what we use now), some countries compensate by using decimal measures for temperature so it’s sometimes reported as 18.3° C, for example. (In Fahrenheit, 18° C could be anywhere between 64.4° to 66°. Okay granted, now that I look at that it looks pretty silly–the middle 60s are still the middle 60s. The decimal point doesn’t really help me decide how many clothes I should wear when I go outside…)

During my research for this documentary I found several rhymes to help people adjust to the “new” (at the time) metric measures. I used one of them during my previous presentation at the MidSchool Math conference last year but had to apologize since it hit me as a little clunky. I told my audience that I hadn’t had time to write something better.

Given that I’m presenting next month at the same conference (slightly different topic than last year) I decided I needed to do what I said I’d do and try to come with something I thought worked a little bit better.

The poem I presented last year:

I thought this poem to learn degrees Celsius a little awkward

This bothered me a little since the construction is not parallel…that third line throws me off and seems out of sync (not written by a poetry major perhaps?)

On the U.S. Metric Association pages:

USMA

A bit better but I thought I’d take a stab at it as well. Here’s what I came up with (original to the best of my knowledge):

At 30 it’s hot
At 20 it’s pleasing
At 10 it’s cold
And 0 it’s freezing

I think it works because “pleasing” and “freezing” rhymes, “hot” and “cold” in the second and third lines shows a decreasing sense of temperature (as do the rest of the rhymes I came across).

Hey, you tell me. When the U.S. decides to convert to the metric system, which poem is the easiest to remember for you? I’ll leave the poll open a couple of weeks and will use the most popular version as I move forward with my project.

Thanks for your participation!

Linda

Let’s vote:

The Metric System and “How to Change the World”

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

A number of weeks ago I started a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Coursera. Its title was “How to Change the World” and was taught by the president of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth.

Briefly, for this class each week you had to watch several videos that included Roth both addressing the camera with the material he wanted to impart as well as interviews he had with people at Wesleyan and elsewhere. There were also readings for each week provided through links from the course’s webpages. (There was quite a lot of reading for this course and each week you also needed to write and submit a 500-word (max) essay on the current topic (poverty, economic development, world health, etc.).

Peer review   

Given that Roth had (as he indicated) more than 20,000 people around the world enrolled in the class, grading papers might be a huge burden. The way around that: peer review. Each week three other students in the class reviewed and graded your work using some clearly spelled out requirements. In turn, you graded the work of three other students.

Given the word limitation, it was a little tough to build cogent responses to one of the two topics offered to write about each week. The only time I received full points was when I mentioned this documentary project. The assignment that week was on “Global disease and health.” Given the medical implications of metric system use, including the misuse of using eating utensils for dosing liquid medicine, it made sense to me to mention it.

While peer reviewers can just assign just a numerical grade they also have the opportunity to include comments.

Interestingly, one reviewer commented on my essay regarding metric adoption:

Thank you for including information about the work you are doing. You are right about dosages not being accurate using teaspoons from your silverware drawer. I remember our doctor making a big point of that fact when our children were young. I had forgotten and now you reminded me how important that is.

No on should use "silverware" as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine to avoid dosing errors.

People should not use “silverware” as substitutes for measuring spoons for medicine if they want to avoid dosing errors. This is particularly important for small children.

All in all, the class was very time consuming but valuable. Maybe less in terms of supporting my attempt to change my part of the world but by broadening my understanding the of problems we face globally and to help me become more sensitive to the fact that suffering anywhere in the world impacts us all.

New Coursera courses

There was no way I was going to be able to follow this level of detail on image processing!

There was no way I was going to be able to follow this level of detail on image processing!

As I mentioned last time, I just started a new class on video and image processing. Having finished watching the third set of videos, I can say that monitoring this class is going to be the best I’m going to be able to do. When the instructor started talking about logarithms and cosines, I realized my most of it was going to be incomprehensible given my background.

I’ve also started another course called “Time to Reorganize! Understand Organizations, Act, and Build a Meaningful World.” I’m taking it in connection with this project since it looks like it might contain some helpful information. The description says, in part,

It explains that organizations can act strategically to protect and renew the sense of membership and attachment of individuals. So doing, organizations that survive and thrive impose their logics of action onto society, thereby influencing what is legitimate or not.

Metric adoption, not to mention the documentary I’m working on, will need the support of multiple organizations to succeed. If I have a better understanding of how organizations operate on an elemental level it could help with my outreach.

I’ll keep you informed. Thanks for reading to the end.

Linda

Fundraising for the Metric System

(Sorry for the lapse in posting. I’ve been very busy. See below.)

My campaign results. Thanks!

My campaign results. Thanks!

As you may be aware, I was recently involved in a class which required that several projects (mine included) raise a small amount of money through crowdfunding. (You can watch the short intro I made here.) Having heard that Internet fundraising is difficult, I thought I was mentally prepared. Besides, my “ask” was small: $1,500. Since longer campaigns aren’t more successful, all our efforts were capped at about four weeks.

Initially, everyone in the class pledged to everyone so there wasn’t a net gain but these efforts helped “seed” each of our projects.

For me everything pretty much came to a standstill after that.

After a couple of weeks of no activity, I started to wonder if I was trying to sell something that no one wanted to buy. I remembered reading many years ago that Thomas Edison had invented things he thought the world needed but those weren’t always successful. He ultimately changed his philosophy to:

I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.

Was I trying to sell something that the rest of the world realized it needed but United States wasn’t ready for? If the campaign failed, what then?

After some soul searching, I made a decision that I would not abandon my metric adoption campaign altogether. Sure, making a documentary is terribly expensive but writing isn’t. And while writing can be very time consuming, it’s not expensive if you do it right.

If the campaign did fail, I decided, I’d pull my blogs together and form them into a book and try to sell that. Granted one on the subject just came out (I’ll review it shortly) but I had a very different story to tell. Another possibility would be to go ahead and write the script and spend my money shopping that around. The Westdoc Conference provides one such opportunity.

Then, right before Thanksgiving, I started to get additional pledges. One lovely gentleman (who I didn’t know at the time) even encouraged others on the Reddit metric pages to contribute.

The heartening news was that, in the end, pledges totaled 110% of the goal. And as it turns out, more than a third of those who donated were people who didn’t know me!

I’ve since written to all of them personally to thank them since they cared enough to help fund the project. I’d also love meet more of these sorts of people (regardless of contributions) since they’re the ones who will help spread the word about how our population needs to become aware of this important topic. Ultimately, the documentary is just about raising awareness. Knowledge of our situation needs to happen before any further attempts at political reform can take place. After all, you can’t solve a problem you don’t know you have.

And now for something (almost) completely different

Is WordPress making a projection for 2015? Plan to exceed it.

Is WordPress making a projection for 2015? Here’s hoping the estimate is low.

I recently received my yearly statistics report and I’d like to share it with you. (The full report is here.) It’s amazing to me that people from 151 different countries have viewed this blog to date!

Total pageviews to date is 86,727 which is an increase of 47% over the 2013 numbers.

The most popular post has been “Top 10 Reasons the United States Should Use the Metric System (of SI)” with 32,951 pageviews. The fact that people continue to search for information on this topic and find these posts also helps me to feel I’m not out in left field somewhere.

Getting “more class”

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

I started a new Coursera course today that should continue to build my knowledge base for the project: Image and video processing: From Mars to Hollywood with a stop at the hospital.

Becoming more conversant on image processing could only be a good thing for me. Technology in this area is changing all the time.

Lots more coming in future. Thanks for staying tuned.

Linda

P.S. If you want to help on the metric adoption issue, I’d love to hear from you. Optimally, I’d like to locate contacts in different states/regions to help built support locally. If you’re interested, let me know by writing to me at milebehind@gmail.com. Thanks!

Staying the “Coursera” with the Metric System

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by major educational institutions

Being the masochist I am (at least if you ask some people) by working at a demanding full-time job, spending my “spare time” on this documentary project and  finishing up a class on funding entrepreneurial ventures, I also recently took on another obligation.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was having a cup of tea at about 11 a.m. and glanced at one of my email accounts noticing that Coursera had a new class called How to Change the World. Glancing at the course’s contents, it looked interesting and included a section titled “Women, Education and Social Change.” Hey, I’m a woman, I consider our teaching two measurement system to our children a real waste of time in schools and it’s all about social change for me—even if I’m not trying to change the whole world—just one thing in my country.

What the heck is Coursera?

I had loaded the Coursera app on my phone several months ago (don’t remember how I first came across it) and, while it looked interesting, I wasn’t sure how I’d find the time for anything else right now. It must have looked interesting enough for me to install the app though.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Coursera says of itself:

Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.

We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

That’s pretty high-minded and admirable. It’s also a nonprofit organization.

The course in question was being given by the president of Wesleyan University no less. Impressive.

“Okay,” I decided, “I’ll bite.” It was difficult to know exactly how it might help with the project but it was worth a try as far as I was concerned. I immediately realized that I was behind since the course had started several days earlier. For the rest of the day I hunkered down, finished the considerable amount of reading, watched almost three hours of video lectures and prepared my first 500-word paper that I had to submit before I went to bed as the deadline was 8 a.m. the following morning. As a professional writer, I figured I had a slight advantage with writing the essay and could generate it pretty quickly. At least I had that going for me.

Took a survey about my interests. This question really got my attention. Hope some people were kidding.

Took a survey about my Coursera interests. This question near the end really got my attention. Hope 37% of people were kidding and good to know the Coursera folks have a sense of humor.

Coursera correction

I had realized that the essays would be graded by my peers, and I’d need to review some as well, but for some reason I thought I’d get an email letting me know when they were available. Wrong. By the time I figured out I hadn’t been notified I had “papers to grade,” I’d missed the deadline and lost 20% from my score for that week. Drats. I’m being much more careful about all the deadlines now.

Not only am I writing about this since you might be interested in this resource but I noticed something in the course itself that bothered me a bit since it relates to the metric system.

In viewing the videos on climate change, in one instance Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan’s president, mentioned the predicted range of increased global temperature in Celsius with no mention of Fahrenheit. That made immediate sense to me since he had said previously that more than 30,000 people worldwide were taking the course. Most of them would use the metric measure for heat, after all. I myself had graded papers from people who wouldn’t use the Fahrenheit scale, as they had mentioned they were from Croatia and India.

That pleasure turned to disappointment when, during the next video, he mentioned how much sea level was predicted to rise in feet with no mention of metric measures.

He’s probably never thought about which units he should use consistently but I’d prefer he use SI units (how the rest of the world refers to the metric system) exclusively.

Maybe if Americans are exposed to metric units enough (with no translation) and have to go “Huh, what does that mean?” they’ll realize that it’s time to join with the rest of the world.

A girl can hope…

I need to go finish this week’s homework now.

Linda

Taos Middle School and the Metric System

Taos Middle School where I paid a recent visit

Taos Middle School where I paid a recent visit

(PLEASE NOTE: I ONLY HAVE A COUPLE OF MORE DAYS TO REACH MY MODEST INITIAL FUNDRAISING GOAL. PLEASE ASSIST IF YOU CAN. IT WOULD REALLY HELP IF I KNEW YOU SUPPORT THESE EFFORTS. THANKS!)

Awhile back I was invited to speak at Taos Middle School as a result of my presentation at the MidSchool Math Conference earlier this year. The teacher, James Spevacek, had been in my session and thought my story was one his students should hear.

I tried to think back to when my daughter was in middle school and her comprehension level to try to figure out what might be of interest to his students. I took two of my previous presentations, selected the parts I thought they might find interesting and added some additional slides just for them. Since I was there as part of Career Day, I also included a slide on jobs in metrology. I also reached out to my contact at the National Institute of Standards, Elizabeth Gentry, for some more metric-only rulers to make sure I had one for each pupil. I gave a lot of them to participants during my recent event at the Los Alamos Science Fest.

The day came and I took the beautiful drive from Los Alamos to Taos (about an hour and a half drive or 100 kilometers, and no, I won’t convert that) arriving there pretty much right on time. The instructor had wonderfully prepped the students so they already had some information on the metric units.

During the course of the day I gave my 45-minute presentation five times and ended each session with the hands-on demonstration with the scales and various materials in volumetric cups compared to the accuracy of the mass measures, much as I had done at the Science Fest.

For the most part, the students were reasonably engaged with the older classes a bit more attentive. I had hoped to spark a little more discussion about our current lack of metric adoption and why we are in the situation in which we find ourselves. I got a comment here and there but there wasn’t really the level of interaction I had hoped for. (It must have been their age, the setting or I didn’t properly set the stage.)

Was it a good use of a vacation day?

Absolutely. While not my main demographic from a lobbying perspective, it was a chance to engage with an audience with which I’d had little interaction previously. I welcomed the opportunity to hear their comments and questions.

I had never had to give the same presentation over and over, and I learned I was a bit inconsistent with my timing: some of the sessions were a little short and one ran a little long and I had to cut it. There was also a class that adjourned for lunch and I had to figure where to break in the presentation so that it made sense so I could pick it back up again.

After a very nice lunch provided by the teachers, we headed back to the classroom for a couple more sessions to finish out the day. For me, the highlight of the experience was when I was introduced at the next afternoon session and one of the students said, “They were talking about this at lunch.” Was this a success or had they been complaining about the woman who had droned on and on about the metric system? I had to know for sure. “In a good way?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. Thank goodness. I didn’t ask about the specifics, I was just happy it was positive.

Mr. Spevacek, was a great help and offered some of his perspectives throughout the day as well as helped fill in as my voice started to strain later in the day.

In retrospect, I could have done better in connecting with the younger age groups and probably should have tailored the presentations to each age level. Still, all I can do is move forward and learn for the next time. Lifelong learning should hopefully be the goal of us all.

I thank Mr. Spevacek and his students for the opportunity to meet with them and for warm reception I received.

On another positive note, I’ve been selected to present at the MidSchool Math Conference again next year. More on that later.

Linda