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


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.


1 thought on “Taos Middle School and the Metric System

  1. I think if you gave a lecture on USC you would have probably received the same lack of interest. I don’t think this generation of kids gets excited much about anything that would improve their lives and hope to live a life where they don’t have to work and have someone provides for them.

    Plus, I think you need a more than just one session with them.

    As for the Luddite who droned on about the metric system, you should have confronted her and let her know that her anti-metric attitude was damaging the country and as long as people think like her, jobs will continue to flee and the poverty that exists in most American cities will spread to include her, unless it already has and rather than light a candle, she would rather curse the darkness.

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