Thursday, October 6, 2011

Metric System Mini-Olympics {Math Lab}

Living in America, it's hard to teach the metric system to middle schoolers and get them to understand, have them realize how important learning it is.I used to teach this very straight-forwardly, but in a creative mood, I compiled this math lab and have been quite pleased with the results and the kids seem to have a BLAST too! I usually do this lab AFTER introducing the metric system so students know how to convert within the system first.

Time Allotment: at least 1 hour, if you do not want students to have homework. Each event can be modified to fit within teaching time period. I also do not do a warm-up on the event day.

  • Paper Plates (1 per student)
  • Straws (1 per student)
  • Cotton Balls (1 per student)
  • Sponges (1 per team)
  • Graduated Cylinder for measuring water - in mL (1 per team)
  • Bin for holding water and sponges
  • Marbles - each marble should weigh about 1 g. *I found most craft stores have these (about 50)
  • Bin for holding marbles
  • Meter Stick
  • Duct Tape or Masking Tape - used for marking out the distance before events

*Before class, mark off about 6 meters with duct tape or masking tape and mark on the tape every 10 centimeters. This will be used for three of the five events.
  1. Place students into equal teams (or as equal as you can make)
  2. Explain each event: Paper Plate Discuss, Straw Javelin, Cotton Ball Shot Put, Sponge Squeeze, and Marble Grab.
  3. Have students estimate how far they will toss a paper plate (in cm), throw a straw (in cm), throw a cotton ball (in cm), how much water they can squeeze into a graduated cylinder with their NON DOMINATE hand(in mL) and how many marbles they can grab with their DOMINATE hand (in g).
  4. Go out to the taped area for the paper plate discuss, straw javelin, and the cotton ball shot put.

Paper Plate Discuss:
- Each student has a paper plate and writes his/her name on it so it won't get lost when we "throw" them.
- Have about a 6 meter long duct taped (or masking taped) strip out marked with every 10 centimeters. - Explain to students the distance markings so they can "see" how long a decimeter is in relation to a meter.
- Have each team line up and the first member of each team throws their plate. Repeat until each student has gone.
- Measure the distances and have students write them on their paper NEXT to their estimates.
- Have students SUBTRACT their estimate with their actual distance. This is their score for the event. The student that is the closest gets a small but fabulous prize. The student that threw the furthest, gets a "gold medal" that I made.

Straw Javelin:
- Complete the straw javelin in the same manner that the paper plate discuss was done, measuring from the BACK of the straw.

Cotton Ball Shot Put:
- Also complete in the same manner that the paper plate discuss and straw javelin was completed.
- Upon completion, go back inside the classroom for the sponge squeeze.

Sponge Squeeze:
- Have a bin set up with water in and enough sponges for each team to have one. Also set out the graduated cyinders (I used flasks b/c our chem lab was using the cylinders)
- Have students elect one person from their team to compete in this activity.
- Students will take their NON DOMINATE hand and grab a sponge and squeeze into the cylinder as hard as they can in ONE SQUEEZE. Any "resqueezing" or shaking will result in a disqualification.

- Measure the amount of liquid in each cylinder in mL and have students record on their paper, comparing to their estimates.
- Award students with the closest estimate and actual as well as the student who squeezed the most mL of water.

Marble Grab:
- Have students elect a different student to compete in this event.
- Students will grab as many marbles as they can with their DOMINATE hand (no scooping!) and place on a plate to count them.
- I use marbles that weigh close to 1 gram each, so it makes this event really easy, but you can also use a scale and have students weigh their handfuls too.
- Have each team record their amounts on their sheets and again find the difference between estimate and actual.
- Award prizes for the estimation winner and the student who was able to grab the most marbles.

Have students return to their seats and add up their "scores" (differences between actual and estimation). The student with the LOWEST score is the overall winner and usually gets some sort of larger, and fabulous prize like a few points extra credit, or something like that.

I usually attach a few metric system worksheets to this lab as my class period is 90 mins in length, and it gives them good practical practice. Plus once we complete the lab, they have a pretty good grasp on the system and can complete these pretty easily.

Have fun!!!


  1. This looks like so much fun! My students have a hard time grasping the metric system. I think I will give this a try after our state tests. It would be a fun afternoon activity to get our of the classroom. Thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  2. Do you have the lab papers to go with? I would LOVE to see how you set it up on paper? I think I am going to try this with my science class at the beginning of the year to review the metric system. THANKS!