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Ryan Falconer

December 13, 2010


Analysis and Synthesis Paper
Metric Conversions in Grade 5
I decided to look deeper into what I think was a failed lesson in
teaching a grade 5 class about metric conversions. This lesson is one that I
witnessed in my first practicum placement during my B.Ed. program last
year. My mentor teacher was a teacher with fives years experience. When
discussing the teaching strategies of my mentor teacher with my program
coordinators, I was given the advice that you can always learn from any
teacher. Sometimes you learn how to teach, sometimes you learn how not to
teach. Unfortunately for me, my first practicum placement was closer to the
later.
Mr. X, my mentor teacher, seemed to be teaching metric conversions
with an objective similar to the behaviorist theory of learning, since all he
wanted was for them be able to complete observable behaviours (Bransford,
Brown, Cocking, 2000). This is because Mr. X wanted the children to master
the process, and spent no time ensuring that they knew what concepts lay
behind this process, or why we would chose to use this process. The lesson
began with Mr. X getting the students to create a chart, ranging from
kilometers on the left, all the way to millimeters on the right, with every
interval in between (decameters, meters, decimeter, centimeter). Once
every student had created their own chart, he showed them that if we count
the number of places between the two areas we wanted to convert (e.g.,

between mm and meters, we count cm, dm, m, therefore three moves), then
we move the decimal point that many times, and we have successfully done
the metric conversion.
The problem with this approach is that the students were never given a
context to the task they were learning. For them, this was a complicated
rote exercise involving decimals. With the school being situated in a high
ELL community, there were many students who did not even know what
these terms meant. While I was told to observe during this lesson, the
interaction I did do with the students made me realize that some students
did not even know that the purpose of this exercise related to a study of
measurement.

Mr. X explained to me his belief why this was such an

effective lesson. His first justification was that he was taught how to do
metric conversions using this strategy, and it was the only way in which he
learned how to get it right. Secondly, if the students did enough rote
memory practice with the exercise, they would be able to answer the
questions that were required to meet the curriculum expectations.
From Mr. Xs perspective, I can see why he thought it was a good math
lesson. First of all, it was an easy task for the students. Since they were
merely moving decimals or adding zeros, the most difficult task was to
memorize the order of the unit sizes in order to know how far to move the
decimal point. With timing always being a concern for teachers, I am sure
Mr. X thought it was best for them to know what to do, and assumed that
those who could grasp the concept would get it, and those who would have

difficulty with the task, would at least be able to get some questions right
with enough practice. Even though I am the same age as Mr. X, I have not
yet, and hope I never am, disenchanted with the idea that good teaching
pedagogy can promote enduring understandings for our students.
Mr. X believed he was practicing good pedagogy, but I believe there
are two main flaws in Mr. Xs instructional design. First of all, he is not
differentiating the lesson to make the learning accessible for all types of
learning. There is no consideration of different learning styles and no
attempt to activate the different multiple intelligences of the students
(Bennett & Rolheiser, 2008). Mr. X assumes that since he learned the
content this way, everyone would learn the same way. To Mr. Xs defense,
there has been some recent research refuting the salience of learning styles
being included in pedagogical theories (Scott, 2010: Reiner & Willingham,
2010), but there is still research that does support multiple intelligences
(Gardner & Hatch, 1989). The second flaw in his lesson planning is to place
the emphasis on teaching the behaviour or process needed to complete the
task, rather than to focus on developing an understanding as to what metric
conversions are and what they are used for. Without at least discussing what
the students knew about metric units of measurement, there was no way to
utilize the students prior knowledge for them to construct meaning. The
constructivist perspective on learning requires the learner to create meaning
(Lau & Nie, 2010). The other area in which this lesson is not effective is that
it does not correspond to research regarding brain-based learning. If this

lesson were to address brain based learning, it would allow the students to
interact with the content of the lesson in multiple ways in order to create
multiple pathways and connections to deepen the students understanding of
the material (Willis, 2007).
There are several ways in which this lesson could be improved for the
students of the class. First of all, there needs to be a way to activate the
students prior knowledge. A component of the constructivist theory of
learning (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2000) involves using the prior
knowledge of the learning to help them construct meaning. Mr. X did meet
the expectations of the lesson, but did not make a good selection of
expectations for the lesson. The children learned how to move decimal
points or add zeros in order to complete the questions that were posed to
them. What Mr. X did not achieve was to successfully foster an enduring
understanding of metric conversions. In order to develop these enduring
understandings of the topic, Mr. X should have approached his lesson design
by determining how to connect with prior knowledge of the students.
Knowing that this class had a diversity of experience and many were
unfamiliar with the differences in metric units, the lesson, or series of
lessons, should have begun with an activity that would have developed a
common experience to relate to the topic. My reflection on this activity
made me think that a class dedicated to measuring things around the room,
and/or even larger measurements around the school would be a great tool to
help create a collective experience for the class. I think this would be a great

exercise as each student could have a ruler and utilize it to build or create an
understanding of units of measurement. This is important since the ruler has
millimeters (mm), centimeters (cm) and decimeters (dm) on it. Later, the
students would then be able to compare the measurements of the three
different units of measurement, and hopefully through a class discussion, the
same strategy of moving the decimal could be discovered, rather than
preached. There may other be other methods that would come from this
approach that may not have been thought of by the teacher. The reason
that this approach is more likely to produce an enduring understanding for
the students is that they are empowered in their thinking. The learning
should not just be restricted to the use of rulers. Meter sticks are readily
available in schools, and could be collected for a day in order to give each
child or group one or two to work with. The next day could be using
measuring wheel that is used for track and field, measuring tapes used by
contractors, and even a laser-measuring tool that are available for
contractors or golfers. By diversifying the exposure to different tools, the
students are developing their understanding of the different units of
measurement. Most of these tools can measure in more than just one unit of
measurement, so the children will be exposed to multiple examples of
different units of measurement and multiple measuring tools.

This

approach is also effective because it not only satisfies the ideals of


Constructivist theory of learning, but also satisfies the Enactivist theory of
learning as well. The Enactivist theory involves an inseparable combination

of the learner, the environment, and all social, environment and cultural
factors present during learning (Li, Bruce & Winchester, 2010). Where the
Constructivist theory argues that the learner uses their prior knowledge to
create or construct learning, Enactivism argues that learning is not created
or transferred, but rather that it is experienced and resides in both the
person and in the world in which they interacted when the learning was
experienced (Li, Bruce & Winchester, 2010). The implication of this theory
on instructional design is that the teacher is responsible for creating an
environment in which students and teacher foster learners development
towards the set of intended co-evolving patterns (Li, Bruce & Winchester,
2010). This approach must be more open ended with regards to instructional
design, as the lessons must allow for the students to help develop the
suitable co-evolving patterns (Li, Bruce & Winchester, 2010).
While there are similarities and differences between the
Constructivists and Enactivists approaches to instructional design, this
particular approach to metric conversions will arguable be effective since it
satisfies the requirements of both; it creates and then draws upon a prior
knowledge (Constructivist), and it fosters a positive learning environment in
which the student can interact and explore (Enactivist). This approach also
manages to address several multiple intelligences (Gardner & Hatch, 1989).
Physically measuring items adds a kinesthetic element to the lesson.
Allowing the children to measure objects out in the courtyard addresses a
naturalistic intelligence, and allowing the children to work either in groups or

alone would allow for those who are more interpersonal and intrapersonal to
have their preferences met.
There are two resources that I had originally thought would be great for
this lesson in order to integrate technology into the topic, but I discovered a
problem with both of them. The first resource I considered is the use of
virtual manipulatives. The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives
(http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html) offers many tools for students to
play with in order to build upon their prior knowledge. The second was the
use of video games like DimensionM (www.dimensionu.com). This game is a
Math version of the DimensionU software and contains curriculum packs so
that questions involved in the multi-player virtual game environment can be
tailored to the specific curriculum expectations of the class. While I was very
excited when beginning to write the paper to include these resources, I
temporarily forgot that these are American resources and therefore do not
include metric as part of their curriculum packs or in their virtual measuring
manipulatives. The reasons for wanting to use them are still relevant. These
tools offer different perspective for the students, not just in how they see the
content, but also by the way in which the students interact with the content.
While I am currently unaware of a Canadian equivalent to these
technological tools, I will continue to look for some for future classes. These
particular computer tools would great to consider for other lessons in math
that do not use metric since they continue to build upon prior knowledge and
create stimulating learning environments.

The benefit to diversifying the approaches we use with our students is


to address brain-based learning research that tells us that learning is more
likely occur when more connections can be made in the brain (Willis, 2007).
Each time that we approach a topic from a different perspective, we are
creating a new pathway in the brain (Willis, 2007). Willis (2007) states that
making connections between these multiple pathways creates enduring
understandings. If students can learn about metric conversions by
measuring objects in the school, as well as out in the field and on the
computer, then each of those different experiences will be a separate
pathway in the brain. Then, when a connection is made between these
different experiences, they reinforce each other as cross referencing occurs
among these areas [in the brain] when we think about [the topic] (Willis,
2007).
In conclusion, Mr. Xs approach to teaching metric conversions had
some flaws in it. The flaw was not just that the lesson was stagnant and
boring, but also that the lesson did not help to build enduring understanding
in the students. Reflecting upon this lesson leads me to believe a better way
to have designed the lesson would have been to address both the
Constructivist and Enactivist theories of learning by building upon and/or
creating a knowledge base on the subject matter, and also by creating a
learning environment where students could actively experience learning.
This approach would also map onto research into brain-based learning, since
approaching topics from multiple viewpoints would have created both

multiple brain pathways, and later multiple brain connections that will
deepen the students understanding of the topic.

References
Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R., Ed.(2000)How People Learn: Brain,
Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, by the Commission on
Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (CBASSE), published by
The National Academies Press.
Bennett, B, & Rolheiser, C. (2008) Beyond Monet, Bookation, Toronto
Gardner, H., Hatch, T. (1989) Multiple Intelligences go to school: educational
implications of the theory of multiple intelligences, Educational
Researcher, 18, 8, 4-10
Scott, C. (2010) The enduring appeal of learning styles, Australian Journal of
Education, 54, 1, 5-17
Lau, S., & Nie, Y. (2010) Differential relations of constructivist and didactic
instruction to students cognition, motivation, and achievement,
Learning and Instruction, 20, 411-423
Li, Q., Bruce, C. & Winchester, I. (2010) Instructional Design and Technology
Grounded in Enactivism: A Paradigm Shift?, to be published in British
Journal of Educational Technology (http://people.ucalgary.ca/~qinli/)
Reiner, C., & Willingham, D. (2010) The Myth of Learning Styles, Change: The
Magazine of Higher Learning; 42, 5, 32-35
Willis, J. (2007) Brain-Based Teaching Strategies for Improving Students'
Memory, Learning, and Test-Taking Success, Childhood Education, 83, 5,
310-315