My Current Metric System Adoption Efforts

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

TEDx talks are regional versions of TED talks

I apologize for the information blackout but I’ve been terribly busy with the day job for the past couple of months pulling together a corporate TEDx talk (and I think that’s all I should say since it’s internal-only, per our license). It’s the first time we’ve done this sort of thing and certainly the first time that I’ve headed up something like it. That said, the event went well and I’m now wrapping things up. Now that I’ve taken a few moments to rest, I should have more energy to devote to this documentary project again.

Even with that, I was still working on things behind the scenes. Here’s a short list of what’s in progress:

  1. I’m building a website that will have all kinds of information on everything to do with the project including a bibliography, links to information for the media and other educational information. I’m still working on it and will announce once things are further along. If there’s information you’d like to see on it, I’ll do my best to provide it.
  2. I’m building a timeline on history as it relates to measurement and the metric system in this country. It’s coming along well but once I launch it I’ll have to pay extra money on a monthly basis. (So far, everything for this project has come out of my pocket but I’m hoping to change that at some point.)
  3. I’m about to buy my first high-definition video camera. I hope to eventually have two cameras. Right now, I need a “starter” camera to get things going and hope to get a higher-end camera after my fundraising is complete. A lighting kit arrived a couple of weeks ago but haven’t even been able to play with it yet.

    Los Alamos Science Fest is coming is September

    Los Alamos Science Fest is coming is September

  4. I’ll have a booth at the upcoming Los Alamos Science Festival in September. I don’t see my activity listed yet but I’m going to demonstrate the superiority of the metric system over customary units in the kitchen with materials and scales. We don’t really use scales in the kitchen in this country since we don’t use the metric system. I think this is a hurdle we’re going to have to overcome and have felt that way ever since I chatted with the a retired, female scientist who told me she never used the metric system when she cooks though she used it every working day of her life.
  5. In conjunction with the above, I plan to make my first videos with it on how to use the metric system in the kitchen. This will help segue me back into video production. I’m hoping to make them fun and interesting and should be able to leverage them for my eventual fundraising video if not for other things.
  6. Contacts, contacts, contacts. This project is never going to get off the ground without the right people involved. Fortunately, more and more people are interested and want to help so it’s more about finding the time to do those sorts of things in the right way.
  7. Speaking of contacts, I’ve meant to pull together a mailing list for some time but haven’t gotten around to it. I think I’ll move that toward the top of my list of things to do since its size will eventually help me determine whether I’ve gotten critical mass to do some fundraising. The mailing list folks will get shorter, behind-the-scenes news about the project. If interested in joining,  subscribe by sending an email to
  8. Other musings…I’ve thought about holding a metric adoption conference call or even meeting (no idea when the last time such a thing happened in this country…Roughly 30 years ago?) That’s going to take some planning to figure out how to best make such a thing happen but it will need to be done at some point. If you are interested in this type of activity, shoot me an email.

I did take three days of vacation in June and went to see my daughter while Jamie Cullum was playing in town. We had a great time!

More on the above shortly. The next column will be about our clinging to our units as some strange nod to our British history.

Thanks for staying tuned,


The MidSchool Math Conference

The next MidSchool Math conference is already in the planning stages

The next MidSchool Math conference is already in the planning stages

My presentation on Math and the Metric System: Using What’s Easy at the MidSchool Math conference went very well. The session had 50 people registered and while not everyone showed up, most folks did. Since the attendees were mostly math teachers I felt I had an opportunity to get them thinking about the metric system in new ways that they could take back their classrooms and hopefully their lives. The group was receptive and had lots of questions for me. They were also able to interact and ask each other questions about their metric classroom experiences.

Hands-on opportunities

I had scheduled some hands-on exercises using length and mass to help them get used to applying metric units. While length didn’t present much of a problem, only a couple of people used scales in the kitchen. This gave them a chance to play with some of the equipment I brought. (Let’s face it, pretty much every ruler and tape measure today has both U.S. customary and metric units on them but most people are so familiar with measuring cups that it doesn’t occur to them to use a scale in the kitchen though it’s far easier.)

I also brought some metric-only rulers supplied by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (centimeters on one side, millimeters on the other) and they cleaned me out of those—which I consider a good sign.

Avoid conversions!!!

A couple of folks on the U.S. Metric Association (USMA) listserve who communicated with me prior to my talk wanted to make sure that I didn’t encourage conversions during my presentation. Not only was that explicit in my presentation—twice no less—but I also pointed out that I’d gotten that feedback from USMA to try to drive the point home. I think it worked.

After all, the metric system was introduced at a time of widespread illiteracy and even unschooled french farmers and tradesmen learned it easily enough. It should be a cinch for today’s high-tech Americans.

One attendee told me she thought it was the best presentation she’d seen so far (I was in the afternoon on the second day) but I have to say that the keynote speaker on the first day, Dan Meyer, was extremely good. He stressed the need to engage kids studying math in the classroom in three acts and bring them along for a story where they really want to figure out what happens. Let’s face it, everyone gets more interested if there’s a good story involved. I think the audience heard him.

Testing my story structure

For my part, I got a chance to try out part of my story structure for the documentary on an audience, hear questions and find out what parts of the narration were of the most interest by their level of attention. There’s just nothing better than trying out your material on a real audience. I’m very pleased with the results but I will continue to refine and expand.

Since I did attend a couple of sessions other than my own, I also had a chance to engage with additional teachers and all seemed very interested in what I’m trying to do. It was only one of the other presenters who gave me pause when he suggested that the next generation would take care of metric conversion in the United States. (Only other time I’ve heard that before [good idea but not now] was in John Quincy Adams’ report to Congress back in 1821—haunts us every time we get serious about metric adoption by the way…) I quickly realized that there was no point in arguing the issue with him but would have loved to point out that in the 30 years since the U.S. Metric Board was disbanded no “next  generation” has come along so far and perhaps he’s part of the “next generation” that should do something. Ah well, I tried to be as persuasive as possible under the circumstances.

As should always be the case, the teacher and learner roles got reversed during my session and I walked away with some additional things to think about and research.

For instance:

  • I’ve been told the military uniformly uses the metric system but others have told me that’s not true. True status will take some digging.
  • When converting from miles to kilometers, what happens to the mile markers since they’re currently used to help drivers know how many miles to their next exit?
  • What’s the best way to convert existing recipes into metric?

The cost of conversion

Of course, the biggest unanswerable question I get asked is how much would it cost to convert to the metric system in this country. I don’t think anyone has a good grasp on that since it’s been so long since the question was seriously considered.

Aside from the cost of conversion errors, and time savings in schools and elsewhere on an individual basis, imagine how much time it takes to design things for multiple countries with dual labeling—including the use of more ink to print both sets.

Converting to the metric system will have a mostly one-time cost while failure to convert to the metric system continues to cost us, and cost us and cost us…


Metric System Presentation at March 2014 National Math Conference

The conference hopes to reverse the trend of declining math score in mid school

The conference hopes to reverse the trend of declining math score in mid school

Next month (March 28 to be exact) I’m making a presentation on the metric system at a national conference in Santa Fe called MidSchool Math thanks to project supporters with Imagine Education. The theme of the entire conference is Stop the Drop and refers to international testing standards that show in 4th grade, American kids are slightly above their cohorts in other countries in math but by 8th grade, they score slightly below. It’s the hope of the conference’s organizers to start to reverse this trend. During the three-day conference, sessions will cover a variety of topics from Mathematical Icebreakers to a keynote session on How to Make Kids Hate Math. My session: Math the Metric System: Using What’s Easy. So far, eight people have registered but there’s more than a month to go.

The cost of the conference is $475 or $525 (that whole early bird thing) and if you’re a teacher in New Mexico, you could be eligible for a stipend of up to $1,000 to cover the conference and its associated costs. Check it out or spread the word.

Having written on the subject of education and the metric system, I have a place to start to build my presentation content, particularly on the subject of Common Core State Standards for math as they relate to the metric system. My session will be an hour and fifteen minutes long so I’ll have time to cover lots of material and, with the assistance of our federal government in the form of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (thanks Elizabeth!), I’ll be able to supply attendees with some modest metric supplies and games to take back to their classrooms.

Total side note: I was just looking for meter sticks on Amazon and came across “One Meter (39-1/2″) Wood Stick Ruler.” Really? You’d think if you were looking for a meter stick (and not a yardstick), you wouldn’t need to have the inches spelled out for you. How much time is wasted in this country having to continually include both metric and U.S. customary numbers? Then I found this in a description: “Meterstick is lightweight and ideal for the classroom. It measures 1 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick.” Pathetic. Let’s please get our metric act together.

I plan to devote quite a bit of time to developing the presentation. When people walk out the door, I want them to say “Wow” but in a good way. That will take time, research, rehearsal and matching my subject matter to my audience. I realize that public speaking frightens a lot of people (some studies rate it as the number one human fear!) but I don’t currently have that problem. I say currently because at one point in my career I wasn’t making a lot of presentations but once I needed to again, I was able to relax pretty quickly. My largest audience to date: more than 500 people. The only caveat to my being relaxed is I have to know my subject matter. That shouldn’t be a problem in this case.

Luckily, I also have some teaching background and found that I’m pretty accurate about being able to estimate how much material I can cover within a particular time period. Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a little extra, so in case you find yourself running short, you can continue a little longer if needed. As the saying goes, “Always leave them wanting more,” but you also want to make sure people walk away feeling like their time was well spent.

I’m also hoping there will be a method for people to feedback on how I did. I find constructive criticism very helpful. While it’s unlikely that I’ll give this exact talk again, who knows what parts of it could come in handy as the project progresses.

It will be nice to get out and interact with the attendees and the other presenters. I’m sure I’ll learn things that will benefit the documentary in ways that won’t seem obvious watching the end product but if you follow this blog, you may see how they ultimately inform me.

I’ll be sure to share what I find out that’s interesting and fun…stay tuned.


2014 Will Be the Metric System Turnaround Year in the United States

Welcome to the statistical Annual Report via WordPress

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

This week’s post

While I feel I’ve made some real progress toward the background for the documentary, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. While I already have quite a few people and organizations lined up for interviews, there’s still fundraising (and everything that goes along with that), putting together promos with no budget other than what I can currently take away from my living expenses, technical considerations of equipment and software and a whole host of challenges including keeping up my full-time job as a writer/project managers for a national science laboratory. (There are no problems, only challenges, mind you.)

Progress is being made

In January of 2013 there were 431 visitors to this blog and last month (December) there were 2,952. That’s quite an increase, and for that, dear reader, I’m deeply appreciative of your scarce time and attention on what I consider an important and mostly overlooked topic.

However, singing to the converted is only going to get us so far. 2014 is going to need to be the year we both start to break through and media noise and get some real traction attached to this issue along with its implications for our future generations with regard to math, science and medicine. It’s not too late despite our very checkered past. It dates back to Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams and, in part, helps make the whole story so dang interesting.

Let this become your mantra: We only have to solve the metric system problem once.

And it is solvable. How many other things can you say that about? Not education. Not healthcare. Not any variety of social reforms. But metric system adoption in this country, yes. And we really do need to treat it as a project and ensure that the structure put in place to carry it out is dismantled when it is time…but not before.

While others around the country are beginning to catch on through major media (Discovery News, Scientific American and the Smithsonian this past year) there’s still work I need to do, which will be quite laborious on my end, along with the need to engage with relevant people and organizations.

The folks on (and the reddit metric subpages) are already on board and they’ve driven a considerable amount of traffic to my site, including almost 2,000 hits in two days because someone posited the question “What’s something from another country you would like to see happen in your country?” It generated quite a bit of conversation on the the topic.

These bursts of interest give me hope that I’m on the right path and I’m happy to say I have a number of people who are helping me along. I’ll continue to rely on their support moving forward. I’m grateful to them everyday.

And remember that each and every one of you is making a difference as well. Allow me to press into service an old adage:

Many hands make light work.

I sure hope so. In fact, I’m counting on it.

My very best wishes during the coming year,


Could the Metric System Help Our Student Assessments and Education?

Earlier this month the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) announced its 2012 scores for 15-year-old students in reading, math and science literacy. It also includes

…measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling.

For the bottom line: The top 10 countries, had a range of scores from 55.4 to 19.4 for math literacy proficiency level 5 and above, while we scored an 8.8.

Frankly, I was surprised that this news caught some major (if fleeting) media attention. (What to see more coverage? Type “PISA scores” into a search engine and then search “News.” Or, some are complied here.)

Where the top countries scored (partial graph, for whole thing, go here):

Countries with top PISA scores

Countries with top PISA scores

Where the U.S. stands

Where the U.S. stands

The assessment is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and is conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Statistics. Given that pedigree, it could be difficult to accuse the test of bias against the United States. I’ve written about our apparent lag in math and science education behind emerging economic entities and its potential relationship to our lack of metric adoption, so let’s see where we stack up this year.

The report states:

In the United States, 9 percent of 15-year-old students scored at proficiency level 5 or above, which was lower than the OECD average of 13 percent. The U.S. percentage was lower than 27 education systems, higher than 22 education systems, and not measurably different than 13 education systems.

And for math literacy:

The U.S. average score was 481, which was lower than the OECD average of 494.

Bottom line: By the time our children are 15 years old, not only are they not in the top of math and science literacy, in many cases they’re barely hanging onto the bottom of average. It’s a sorry situation.

Just having a bad year with the test results?

So, could this be an aberration? Perhaps we were just a little bit off in 2012. On that topic, the report states:

The U.S. average mathematics, science, and reading literacy scores in 2012 were not measurably different from average scores in previous PISA assessment years with which comparisons can be made (2003, 2006 and 2009 for mathematics; 2006, and 2009 for science; and 2000, 2003, and 2009 for reading)

As I’ve written in this blog before, it’s not so much that our students are falling behind, it’s that other counties’ student are making much more rapid progress.

Interestingly, earlier this week I came across the review for a book that seeks to debunk what I (and others) have identified as an American decline. While I’ve been looking at the areas of math and science education, Josef Joffee’s new book, titled The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Econimics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies, apparently takes a much wider view of view of the situation. While I am very hesitant to say much about a book I haven’t read, let me quote from the publisher itself and let you know where I see a major problem:

Buttressing his argument with facts, Joffe demonstrates that America’s future is sanguine. In contrast to the Carter years, the economic woes of the Obama era look more like a nasty migraine. By historical standards, the U.S. defense burden today is extraordinarily low, hence sustainable over the long haul. Immigration (plus a healthy birth rate) will not only keep the nation younger than China, Japan, Europe, and Russia but will continue to bring in the world’s best and brightest. Indeed, America is the “world’s Ph.D. factory” both in science and engineering, while its R&D spending dwarfs the “rising rest.”

[Emphasis mine.]

That last statement above is misleading as far as I can tell. I’ll have to get my hands on a copy so I can look up his source for that statement but based on the research I’ve done so far, that’s not what I’ve found.

According to our National Science Foundation (National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2012):

Besides the generally vigorous pace at which the global total of R&D is now growing, the other major trend has been the rapid expansion of R&D performance in the regions of East/Southeast Asia and South Asia, including countries such as China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. The R&D performed in these two Asian regions represented only 24% of the global R&D total in 1999, but accounted for 32% in 2009, including China (12%) and Japan (11%).

[Emphasis mine.]

As for us churning out huge numbers of PhDs, here’s a chart I’ve used before that illustrates where undergraduate degrees in science and engineering are being earned and would seem to indicate that we’re falling behind compared to many of the same countries who are outscoring us (Tough to get a PhD in this country if you’re not first granted a Bachelor of Science) :

STEM degrees

Science and engineering undergraduate degrees worldwide (National Science Foundation)

I do believe that we are getting behind the curve in some ways and our continued lack of metric system adoption is one example.

Sure, we might still be in the lead in some areas but think of all the empires that have come before: the British, Mongol, Roman, French, Ottoman (and many others you’ve probably never even heard of) and ask yourself if they recognized they were about to decline or were sure they’d be on top forever? I’m guessing the latter.

I’m not saying that metric system adoption is a panacea for all our problems but why can’t we at least stop handicapping our children with a measurement system that our competitors dropped many years ago? Our dysfunctional use of our U.S. customary units certainly aren’t helping us progress as a nation.

Happy holidays,


Why measurement systems (including the metric system) are important

Let’s, for a moment, set aside how important it is to get medication doses correct and ask the more basic question “Why does it really matter what measurement system we use?”

My answer to that question might shock you: Fundamentally, it doesn’t.

What really matters is that people working together use the same one. What the metric system has going for it is that it was designed for all of the units logically interrelate to each other. That last point is a big deal.

Metric measuring tape

Metric measuring tape

Back before the world was so integrated it was less of a problem if each little hamlet developed and used its own measures.

The way I like to put it is: “So how tall is it?” one peasant asks another.

“Why, it’s as tall as Larry’s door,” answers the friend. They’ve both been to Larry’s house and can use that as a point of reference.

To say that’s Larry’s door could now become the standard of length/height for that community really isn’t that far off.

Under this scenario, the only people for whom that would really cause a problem would be for the traders who’d have to learn multiple units to deal with multiple localities as they sold their wares. It was also a way of keeping outsiders out since their lack of familiarity with the regional units would immediately make them stand out.

For reasons that I’ll explore in my documentary, we continue to isolate ourselves, and handicap our children, through our lack of metric adoption.

The units we currently use in this country are not only a mishmash of almost totally unrelated units that were cobbled together but we’ve put ourselves totally out of step with the rest of the industrial world.

Metric units are streamlined and basic. Easy to learn and apply. That’s why almost everyone else in the world has adopted them.

While I have enlisted an American culture expert to interview to help address why we’ve been so resistant to such a change, I suspect that there are multiple reasons for our behavior on this issue in the past. The poll that ran on this topic previously to helped identify them.

Recycling our past

As we move toward metric adoption, we’ll find ourselves with items we no longer need. Mostly what comes to my mind are the measuring cups we use for dry ingredients in the kitchen (in a metric world, grams are the necessary and superior way to go). It’s also possible that people might still have liquid measuring cups without milliliters but they’d probably have to be pretty old or rulers (or tape measures) that don’t have metric measures on them. (Not sure what the cutoff date for such items might have been…the 1970s when we had our last metric push? Might need to investigate this some more.) Items like wrenches in U.S. customary units also come to mind.

Great idea to recycle tape measures--hopefully nonmetric ones.

Great idea to recycle tape measures–hopefully nonmetric ones.

Earlier this week I came across the above image of a clutch made from measuring tapes and got to thinking about what we could do with non-metric items we’d longer need. (I know I currently have a tape measure with inches on one side. It looks like the item above uses both metric and nonmetric.)

In the meantime, feel free to share your ideas of what other items we’ll need to try to recycle into something useful or interesting (maybe even beautiful) once we’ve adopted the metric system in this country and even your ideas of how to do it.

I wouldn’t ask you to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself and I have an idea for something to do with my dry measuring cups that just came to me so I’ll try to get that put together up for my next post.

Want to share your ideas of what other things we’ll not need in a fully metric world? Feel free to add them to the comments section.

Want to share an image of possible way to use old, nonmetric items using one of many reputable filesharing sites? (I’d recommend  Imgur or Photobucket feel free.* Or even post to my twitter account: Who knows, maybe I’ll add your ideas to my “Hall of Fame.”

I look forward to hearing from you!


Linda (milebehind@gmailcom)

* Just please don’t send me image files. I won’t open them for security reasons.

The clutch image from

Metric tape measure photo: Simon A. Eugster

Vote for Your Favorite Pro-Metric System Slogans

One idea that came concurrent with the inception of the project was T-shirts. Really. Not only as a way to raise money for production but with the notion that if people are interested enough to wear a pro metric T-shirt it might get other people thinking about the issue and raise awareness. Awareness is the first step to helping prepare for the change that needs to take place.

To back this idea up, allow me to quote the Heath brothers, from their bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: (Had to take some liberties with emphasis from the book due to the blog’s template.)

We all talk about the power of peer pressure, but “pressure” may be overstating the case. Peer perception is plenty. In this entire book, you might not find a single statement that is so rigorously supported by empirical research as this one: You are doing things because you see your peers do them. It’s not only your body-pierced teen who follows the crowd. It’s you, too. Behavior is contagious.

To help perpetuate peer perception, I’ve generated slogans I thought would work to spur metric adoption. I’m sure I’ll come with with more but here are some to start with.

I plan to make products available with them so knowing your favorites would be very helpful. Please take a moment to tell me which ones you like best. (I’ll roll out more as time goes on.)

Here’s an example of one of them translated into a design: (thanks to my multitalented daughter Laura):

What the slogans might look like

A slogan example

(Please note: For right now, please don’t send me your suggestions for new ones. There are legal implications and intellectual property considerations. May run a contest in the future once I’ve gotten the details sorted out so hold on to them until that time. In fact, try to think up more than the one that just popped into you head and write them down for future use. Thanks!)

May also have to change some a bit since Burma has now announced its intent to convert  to the metric system. But, hasn’t happened yet so I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Layout also gets complicated so I used colons where I thought some of the line breaks should be. Some are also a bit of an “inside joke” so ignore them if they don’t work for you.

I’ll leave the poll open for a few weeks since I would like lots of input. Feel free to share this with folks you know. Thanks, Linda

Note: Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print. Page 227.

Would Adoption of the Metric System Reverse Our Math and Science Education Decline?

Could full metric system adoption in our schools help our sorry STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) situation by saving time (since we wouldn’t need to teach two unrelated systems) and better ground our students in the language of science and medicine? Something I recently came across certainly seems to indicate it should:

Studies in Great Britain and Australia show that the metric changover in their nations could save a fifth of the time previously spent teaching mathematics. A U.S. government report estimates the time saved in our schools could run from 15 to 25 per cent.1

I’ll do some more research to see if I can find further evidence but, in the meantime, here’s some information from two reports I recently noticed that speak to how other countries are kicking our STEM butt.

American Exceptionalism, American Decline? It would appear so

The first report I came across was American Exceptionalism, American Decline? Research, the Knowledge Economy, and the 21st Century Challenge. It was put out a little less than a year ago by the Task Force on American Innovation. And who are those folks? Here are a few names of the organizations it includes that you might recognize: Google, IBM, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dow, P&G, Microsoft, American Physical Society, Qualcomm, Intel and the American Institute of Physics.

STEM degrees

One of the organization’s findings. Is it any wonder we’re falling behind with numbers like these?

At a respectable 44 pages long, it covers a number of issues our nation must address but also outlines some of our STEM challenges. The first line of the report reads:

Despite a strong history of being the world leader in research and discovery, the United States has failed to sufficiently heed indications that our advantage is diminishing and that we may soon be overtaken by other nations in these areas, which are critical to economic growth and job creation.

and a few paragraphs later:

First, the stagnation of the American K-12 education system and the inadequate numbers of U.S. students entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines are threatening the nation’s ability to recruit, train, and retain the scientists and engineers required to create new products and systems.

The report then elaborates about a lack of national science and engineering support and declining federal funding that is hurting our ability to innovate.

What are the implications of world literacy and numeracy skills?

The second report was OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results for the Survey of Adult Skills. (Where OECD stands for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Its United States pages are here.)

The report covers 20 countries, including the United States and “directly measures proficiency in several information-processing skills – namely literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments”  and the implications of those skills, or the lack thereof. At 466 pages, it’s a bit more to go through.

However, its major finding is:

If large proportions of adults have low reading and numeracy skills, introducing and disseminating productivity-improving technologies and work-organisation practices can therefore be hampered… In all countries, individuals with lower proficiency in literacy are more likely than those with better literacy skills to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and not to participate in associative or volunteer activities. In most countries, they are also less likely to trust others.

And this paragraph, I think, points out how poorly we’re doing at keeping up with the rest of the world (emphasis is mine).

In numeracy, the United States performs around the average when comparing the proficiency of 55-65 year-olds, but is lowest in numeracy among all participating countries when comparing proficiency among 16-24 year-olds. This is not necessarily because performance has declined in England/Northern Ireland (UK) or the United States, but because it has risen so much faster in so many other countries across successive generations.

Ranking of numeracy skills

Where our skills (or lack thereof) land us.

We’re finally starting to recognize that we are falling behind in an increasingly technological world. Hopefully we’ll also recognize that metric adoption could assist us halting this  decline.

Thanks for your attention,


1.You and the Metric System, Stover, Allan C. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974, p. 15.

National Metric Week is Coming: Can You Help?

The logo for this year's National Metric Week

The logo for this year’s National Metric Week

Believe it or not, we actually have a National Metric Week in this country. It’s always the week in which October 10th falls (As in 10/10). This year it’s the week of October 6-12. The annual recognition of the importance of the metric system in the United States is promoted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Part of its formal position on the subject of metric system adoption reads in part:

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics supports efforts by the U.S. government to make a transition to the metric system (SI) as the nation’s primary measurement system and to reestablish the U.S. Metric Board to support and encourage the use of the metric system. However, the Council recognizes the leadership responsibility of schools to ensure that all students have experiences that enable them to measure in both the metric and the customary systems as well as to solve problems related to measurement in either system.

The second part of that statement wouldn’t be necessary if we had converted to the metric system during one of our several attempts in the past 200+ years. (And yes, there was more than the one in 1975.)

If the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics think it’s important for our children to covert to the metric system (how I read the above statement) then it must be pretty important because these are the folks who teach our children math!

As if that wasn’t enough, I located the following in of the 2013 version of the National Education Association Handbook under its “Resolutions” section:

B-57. Metric System
The National Education Association believes in the adoption of the International System of Units (SI metric system). The Association advocates that the SI system be taught at all educational levels. Page 238.

And here’s what the National Science Teachers Association has to say to say on the subject (in part):

The efficiency and effectiveness of the metric system has long been evident to scientists, engineers, and educators. Because the metric system is used in all industrial nations except the United States, it is the position of the National Science Teachers Association that the International System of Units (SI) and its language be incorporated as an integral part of the education of children at all levels of their schooling.

Metric system conversion is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) issue

As I’ve pondered our metric system history issues for more than a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that conversion to the metric system is fundamentally an education/STEM issue. For those of you not familiar with the STEM acronym STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

It’s a concept I’m very familiar with since I’ve been writing about regional STEM issues for the national laboratory where I work for many years.

Students well-grounded in STEM fields are critical to our country’s future

As if the above wasn’t enough, here’s what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about STEM education in our country:

The United States has become a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers and innovators. Yet today, that position is threatened as comparatively few American students pursue expertise in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)—and by an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects. President Obama has set a priority of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields.

Further down on the same page it states:

Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.

Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations. In our competitive global economy, this situation is unacceptable.

STEM job projections from the Department of Education

STEM job projections from the Department of Education

This is a pitiful situation as far as I’m concerned.

Plus, STEM Careers Pay Well

The U.S. Census reports the “Per capita money income in the past 12 months (2011 dollars” is $27,915 in our nation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, here are the pay ranges for some STEM careers and many of them only include those for people with bachelors or masters degrees.

Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations                      $32,760 to $107,420
Architecture and Engineering Occupations                              $37,900 to $114,080
Computer and Information Technology Occupations               $46,260 to $100,660
Math Occupations                                                                     $70,960 to $99,380
Physicians and Surgeons                                                         $189,402 to $407,292

The bottom line: Resources spent learning U.S. customary units in our schools is a waste of time and our children need to be well versed in the metric system to get high-paying careers in science and medicine.

I urge you to take advantage of national metric week this year to acquaint yourself with the metric system (if you’re not already familiar with it) and set a good example for those around you. Measure using those “other” marks on your rulers for a change and take a look at the milliliter side of your clear class measuring vessels the next time to pour in your ounces and cups.

It’s really not that difficult and, in fact, no country that has converted to the metric system has wanted to go back to its old way of doing things…something to think about.

For additional Metric Week resources, visit the U.S. Metric Association’s pages and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Kid in a U.S. Metric System History Candy Store

[Continued from column last week on researching at the Library of Congress]

Some of my Library of Congress resources

Some of my Library of Congress resources

Since my plane didn’t leave until 6 p.m. on Monday I ended up asking for some materials on our U.S. metric system history be collected from their storage location and delivered to the Adams building so I could take a look at them.

• The library gets two deliveries a day, one in the late morning and another in the afternoon (that was going to be too late for me). My great appreciation to those folks who helped me get the materials in the morning delivery.

• When you submit the electronic request (the only way you can get materials from off-site) you get an email notifying you the request for the publication has been received, another when it has left the storage facility and another when it arrives at your specified delivery location.

When I arrived, I was thrilled to see so much material and set about going through it and noting in which of three “bins” the items should reside: not useful for my purposes, ask my library to acquire so I could spend more time with them and, finally, seek to acquire for my collection.

Metric excitement and legislative aftermath
As I went through the books, some of which were self-published in an attempt to jump on the metric adoption bandwagon back in the 1970s, one thing that struck me was the excitement the authors had over the notion that the U.S. was finally adopting the metric system.

For instance, the introduction to the book Let’s Cook it Metric by Elizabeth Read, 1975, begins with:

For the past thirty years I have worked as a dietitian or nutritionist and have been amazed and appalled at the lack of knowledge of measurements of most people. Then I realized that our standard system of measurement is really a mish-mash of archaic terms based on parts of the human body. This year, 1975, will undoubtedly be the year that Congress will pass metric legislation.

Well, she was right about the legislation passing. Too bad it was too weak to really have propelled us forward and another 30 years later we’re still buying things in pounds, yards and gallons.

Expanding my research collection
Upon arriving home, I began looking for the publications I wanted to buy and since I had done most of my primary research almost a year ago, I did a cursory search on the term “metric system” on Amazon.

Slated for publication May 27, 2014

Slated for publication May 27, 2014

To my shock, I came across a yet-to-be-published book titled: Whatever Happened to the Metric System: How America Became the Last County on Earth to Keep Its Feet. The publication date is listed as May 27, 2014 and the author is John Bemelmans Marciano.

While Amazon lists him as the author and illustrator of quite of few the children’s books in the Madeline series, he has also written Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words  and Toponymity: An Atlas of Words.

I have a call in to his publisher since I couldn’t find any other straightforward way to contact him. I’m very interested in what prompted him to work on this subject as well as what it might contain.

How much research is too much?
While I could research on this topic endlessly, what I’m most interested in is enough and correct information to inform the script for my documentary.

Due to my communications/research background, I even have an information gathering philosophy: I don’t need to see everything that was ever produced on my subject but enough so, as new information on the subject might come to light, nothing contradicts what I’ve asserted and hopefully only supports or expands upon it.

At least that’s what I’m aiming for. You never know…

Honored and archived
I also must say that I was extremely honored on Monday when I received word that this blog will be archived by the Library of Congress. The notification read in part:

To Whom It May Concern:

The United States Library of Congress has selected your website for inclusion in the Library’s historic collection of Science Blogs. We consider your website to be an important part of this collection and the historical record.

The Library of Congress preserves the Nation’s cultural artifacts and provides enduring access to them. The Library’s traditional functions, acquiring, cataloging, preserving and serving collection materials of historical importance to the Congress and the American people to foster education and scholarship, extend to digital materials, including websites.

My many thanks to Jennifer Harbster with the Library of Congress for taking the time to submit my blog for consideration. I truly appreciated her helping me with these efforts in multiple ways.

I will continue to do everything I can to make this blog interesting and useful.

Thank you for your kind attention,