Metric Measure #06

(grades 8-12)
Soft-bound, 56 page book, 20 reproducible task cards, full teaching notes.

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The perfect sequel to Measuring Length: continue the study of area, volume and mass, and the metric units that measure them. Build metric models that help you visualize the number of stars in the Milky Way. Improvise a sensitive balance to verify that a cubic centimeter holds 1 mL of water and has a mass of 1 gram. By extension, 1000 mL (one liter) has a mass of 1000 grams (one kilogram) or 2.2 pounds. Estimate rice grains by area, volume and mass.

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Table of Contents for #06 Metric Measure:

Preparation and Support

A TOPS Model for Effective Science Teaching • Getting Ready • Gathering Materials • Sequencing Task Cards • Long Range Objectives • Review / Test Questions

Activities and Lesson Notes

  1. 1. Decimal Ladder (1)
  2. 2. Decimal Ladder (2)
  3. 3. Decimal Ladder (3)
  4. 4. Length, Area, Volume...
  5. 5. Millions and Billions
  6. 6. Our Small Speck
  7. 7. Sizing Up a Cylinder
  8. 8. Liquid Volume
  9. 9. Liter Buckets
  10. 10. Pouring Grams
  11. 11. Mass x Distance
  12. 12. Kilos and Pounds
  13. 13. Build a Microbalance
  14. 14. Millimasses

  16. 15. Pass the Rice
  17. 16. Mass Estimate
  18. 17. Volume Estimate
  19. 18. Area Estimate
  20. 19. How Can This Be?
  21. 20. Ton of Water

Supplementary Pages

centimeter grid • centimeter ruler • grid with inscribed circle • grid with millimeter squares


Complete Master List for #06 Metric Measure:

Key: (1st/2nd/3rd) denote needed quantities: (1st) enough for 1 student doing all activities; (2nd) enough for 30 students working in 10 lab groups all self-paced; (3rd) enough for 30 students working in 10 lab groups, all doing the same lesson. Starred* items may be purchased below.

  1. 1/10/10: calculators
  2. 1/10/10: scissors
  3. * 1/5/10: rolls clear tape
  4. 4/40/40: meters kite string
  5. 1/10/10: meter sticks
  6. 1/10/10: pinches table salt
  7. * 1/4/10: hand lenses
  8. * 1/10/10: straight pins
  9. 1/10/10: empty cans
  10. * 1/10/10: eyedroppers

  11. * 1/5/10: rolls masking tape
  12. * 1/10/10: 10 mL graduated cylinders
  13. 1/1/1: water source
  14. * 1/10/10: 100 mL graduated cylinders
  15. 1/4/10: pie tins or plates (optional)
  16. 2/20/20: half-gallon milk cartons
  17. 1/2/5: paper punch tools
  18. * 3/30/30: straight straws
  19. * 1/10/10: paper clips
  20. * 1/10/10: test tubes

  21. 1/10/10: tall beverage bottles, 1 or 2 liter size
  22. 1/10/10: plastic produce bags
  23. 1/10/10: plastic sandwich bags (or produce bags)
  24. 1/10/10: liters gravel or sand
  25. 1/5/10: 1 pound bag of long-grained white rice (or other 1-pound reference weights)
  26. * 1/10/10: clothespins
  27. * 1/1/1: spool of thread
  28. 1/10/10: paper cups
  29. 1/10/10: U.S. or Canadian dollar bills
  30. * 1/10/10: baby food jars with lids

  31. 1/1/1: roll paper towels
  32. 1/5/10: index cards
  33. 1/10/10: full sheets of newspaper

Convenient Shopping:

Baby Food Jars - assorted

without lids

Each set includes 4 small, 4 medium and 4 large glass jars.


wooden, spring-action

These are handy lab items to keep in stock. We use them as bulb holders, tongs, clips, and more.


glass, with rubber bulbs and screw-on plastic bottle top

These have many lab uses. You may purchase them separately here, or with 1/2 ounce dropper bottles (as item #1121).

Separately, these also double as Cartesian Divers in #200 Diving into Pressure & Buoyancy. If you already have droppers, test them in advance to see if they make good 'divers': Remove plastic bottle top, if any. Dropper must float when empty, then sink with a one-squeeze-intake of water. Test that the seal between bulb and barrel is water tight: The empty dropper should float for a day or so in a glass of water, without taking on visible water.

Graduated Cylinder - 10 mL

shatter resistant plastic on stable base

An important lab inquiry tool for measuring small liquid volumes.

Graduated Cylinder - 100 mL

shatter resistant plastic on stable base

An important lab inquiry tool for measuring larger liquid volumes.

Magnifier - hand lens

3X clear plastic hand lens

You'll find many uses for this basic tool of scientific inquiry. Very nice quality for the price. Supports #17 Light, #23 Rocks and Minerals, and #42 Focus Pocus. (One 3X hand lens is also included in each #100 Triple Magnifier Kit.)

Paper Clips

size #1, steel, box of 100

Paper clips have 1001 uses in TOPS experiments, and science in general. Feel free to use paper clips you already have, but be aware that different brands come in different sizes and weights. In experiments where uniformity is important, don't mix brands.

Straight Pins

steel, one and 1/16 inch long

Used in many TOPS experiments. Sometimes required for their magnetic properties. Don't purchase aluminum straight pins by mistake.

Straws - straight

plastic, thin

Any length straw, between 0.20 and 0.25 inches in diameter is suitable. Grocery stores generally carry straws with flexible "elbows." You can use those if you cut off the bendable section before using.

Tape - clear

3/4 inch x 1000 inch roll

Your standard desk tape with matte write-on surface.

Tape - masking

3/4 inch x 55 yd roll

A handy science supply used in most TOPS modules.

Test Tube - medium disposable

19 mL capacity, 16 mm OD, 5 inch (125 mm) length

A lighter weight rimless Pyrex test tube made with thinner glass.

Test Tube - medium reusable

14 mL capacity, 15 mm OD, 5 inch (125 mm) length

A tough Pyrex test tube made with rim and thicker glass. Has a white spot for labeling.


light duty, 25 yd spool

Just plain old thread. Used in many TOPS titles, especially in Pendulums #34.

Teaching Tips for #06 Metric Measure:

We encourage improvisation - it's one of the main goals of our hands-on approach! You and your students might invent a simpler, sturdier or more accurate system; might ask a better question; might design a better extension. Hooray for ingenuity! When this occurs, we'd love to hear about it and share it with other educators. Please send ideas and photos to

Lesson by Lesson Objectives for #06 Metric Measure:

  1. Lesson 1: To practice using numeral place values as language, powers of ten, and decimal numbers.
  2. Lesson 2: To define metric prefixes in terms of the decimal ladder. To practice translating these prefixes to their numerical equivalents.
  3. Lesson 3: To practice converting common forms of metric units. To understand and use metric abbreviations.
  4. Lesson 4: To relate increases in length, area and volume to growth in one, two and three dimensions.
  5. Lesson 5: To model cubic meters, cubic centimeters and cubic millimeters. To comprehend the size of a million and billion in terms of these models.
  6. Lesson 6: To visualize, with the aid of metric volumes, the number of stars in the Milky Way. To define a personal view of your place in the universe.
  7. Lesson 7: To calculate the area of a circle, and the volume of a cylinder. To understand volume as area extended through a third dimension.
  8. Lesson 8: To discover that dry measure in cubic centimeters is equal to liquid measure in milliliters. To appreciate the advantages of using each kind of measure.
  9. Lesson 9: To calculate the 1 liter water level in a half-gallon milk carton. To prepare heavy duty buckets to use in the next activity.
  10. Lesson 10: To construct a heavy duty equal-arm balance. To make a kilogram standard derived from the mass of one liter of water.
  11. Lesson 11: To explore the properties of a balance beam. To understand that the product of mass and distance must be the same on both sides of a centered beam to achieve balance.
  12. Lesson 12: To apply balance beam properties in determining an equivalency between kilograms and pounds.
  13. Lesson 13: To construct a light-duty equal-arm balance sensitive to 5 milligrams.
  14. Lesson 14: To develop a series of milligram masses to use with the light-duty balance previously constructed. To accurately determine the mass of a dollar bill and compare paper densities.
  15. Lesson 15: To find the mass of rice contained in a baby food jar using a balance beam and graduated cylinder.
  16. Lesson 16: To estimate the total number of rice grains in a baby food jar by counting the grains in a small mass and multiplying by the whole.
  17. Lesson 17: To estimate the total number of rice grains in a baby food jar by counting the grains in a small volume and multiplying by the whole.
  18. Lesson 18: To estimate the total number of rice grains in a baby food jar by spreading all the rice over a centimeter grid, then counting the average number of grains in a typical square.
  19. Lesson 19: To explain an apparent area gain in a group of puzzle pieces.
  20. Lesson 20: To use the metric system to estimate how long it takes a dripping faucet to waste a metric ton of water.

National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) for #06 Metric Measure:

TEACHING Standards

These 20 task cards promote excellence in science teaching by these NSES criteria:
Teachers of science...
A: ...plan an inquiry-based science program. (p. 30)
B: and facilitate learning. (p. 32)
C: ...engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning. (p. 37)
D: and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science. (p. 43)

CONTENT Standards

These 20 task cards contain fundamental content as defined by these NSES guidelines (p. 109).
• Represent a central event or phenomenon in the natural world.
• Represent a central scientific idea and organizing principle.
• Have rich explanatory power.
• Guide fruitful investigations.
• Apply to situations and contexts common to everyday experiences.
• Can be linked to meaningful learning experiences.
• Are developmentally appropriate for students at the grade level specified.

Unifying Concepts and Processes

NSES Framework: Systems, order, and organization • Evidence, models and explanation • Constancy, change, and measurement
Core Concepts/Processes: Once centimeter cube of water occupies one milliliter of volume with a mass of one gram.

Science as Inquiry (content standard A)

NSES Framework: Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations. • Design and conduct a scientific investigation. • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. • Think critically and logically to connect evidence and explanations. • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions. • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations. • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Core Inquiries: Estimate the number of rice grains in a jar by volume; by weight; by area. Three different methods yield roughly the same result.

Physical Science (content standard B)

NSES Framework: Properties and changes of properties in matter
Core Content: Objects have length, area, volume and mass quantified and measured with metric prefixes.

Earth and Space Science (content standard D)

NSES Framework: Origin and evolution of the universe
Core Content: If each grain of salt represents a star like our sun, and 8 tiny grains fit into a cubic millimeter, the stars in our Milky Way galaxy fill 25 cubic meters.