The Metric System
A Position of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
What should schools teach about the metric and the customary systems of measure?
need to develop an understanding of metric units and their relationships, as
well as fluency in applying the metric system to real-world situations. Because
some non-metric units of measure are common in particular contexts, students
need to develop familiarity with multiple systems of measure, including metric
and customary systems and their relationships.
The International System of Units (SI) is
the internationally recognized standard metric system. Almost all countries have adapted SI, although
some have retained
elements of their non-metric units of
measure for use in everyday life. Understanding relationships between SI and
customary systems of measure is important to students, who must be able to communicate
in a technology-rich world and work in a global economy. In particular, SI is the predominant measurement system in science
and prevalent in commerce
(Thompson & Taylor, 2008). To
participate in integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM) fields, students need to be fluent in applying the metric system.
the Common Core State Standards
for Mathematics, and the Next
Generation Science Standards all describe the need to organize curriculum to ensure that students
become proficient in measurement.
Students should gradually develop fundamental ideas of measurement that
lead to understanding SI and customary systems as two examples of systems of
measure. Students first need to develop a concept of the attribute to be measured
(e.g., length, mass, volume, time, temperature) by comparing
and ordering objects solely on the basis of that attribute.
Then they should devise and apply nonstandard units to compare
and order objects indirectly on the basis of the attribute. Finally, they should be introduced to standard
units of measure
(both SI units
non-metric units of measure customarily
used in the United States)
and systems of measure.
study of a system of measure, learning goals for students should include
knowledge of and ability to use referents,
or benchmarks, in estimation. Students should select appropriate units for a given task and make reasonably accurate measurements by using standard tools. They should reason proportionally to develop
relationships between units in different systems and convert flexibly and fluently among commonly used units within a measurement system.
should experience the usefulness of systems of measure for meaningful communication and develop an appreciation for
their value. Standard systems of measure allow reliability—repeated measures
of an object’s attribute within one system yield consistent results. Two or more people who use the same system of units can share a common understanding of measures of an object’s attributes, regardless
of whether the people are in the same location as the object or as one another.
These features allow for shared discoveries and meaningful communication in
Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles
and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.
Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School
Officers. (2010). Common core state standards
for mathematics. Common core state standards (college- and career-readiness standards
and K–12 standards in English language arts and math). Washington, DC: Author.
Teachers Association. (2012). Next Generation Science Standards. Washington,
DC: Author. http://www.nextgenscience.org/
Thompson, A., &
Taylor, B. N. (2008). Guide for the use
of the International System of Units (SI). Washington, DC: National
Institute of Standards and Technology. Retrieved
Albrecht, M. R., Burke, M. J., Ellis, W., Jr., Kennedy, D.,
& Maletsky, E. M. (2004). Navigating through Measurement in Grades 9–12.
Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of
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& Cuevas, G. J. (2005). Navigating
through measurement in grades 3–5. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers
Bright, G. W., Jordan,
P. L., Malloy, C., & Watanabe, T. (2005). Navigating through measurement in grades 6–8. Reston, VA: National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Clements, D. H. (Ed.). (2003). Learning and teaching measurement, 2003 Yearbook
of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reston, VA: NCTM.
Dacey, L., Cavanagh, M., Findell,
C. R., Greenes, C. E., Sheffield, L. J., & Small, M. (2003). Navigating
through measurement in prekindergarten–grade 2. Reston, VA: National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Dougherty, B. J., Flores, A., Louis, E., &
Sophian, C. (2010). Developing essential
understanding of number and numeration for teaching mathematics in
prekindergarten–grade 2. Essential Understanding Series. Reston, VA:
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Goldenberg, E. P., &
Clements, D. H. (2015). Developing essential understanding of geometry for
teaching mathematics in prekindergarten–grade 2. Essential Understanding
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National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2012). Real world math: Articles, lesson plans, and
activities for the middle grades. Reston, VA: Author.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (October,
2006). Teaching and learning measurement (focus issue). Teaching Children Mathematics.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (February,
2013). Mathematics in a STEM context (focus issue). Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.
NCTM position statements define a particular problem, issue, or need and describe its relevance to mathematics education. Each statement defines the Council's position or answers a question central to the issue. The NCTM Board of Directors approves position statements.