Measurement: A Tale of Two Systems

Who Uses the Metric System?

That's right. Even the content of Antarctica uses the metric system.

That’s right. Even the continent of Antarctica uses the metric system.

The customary system is a measurement system that is officially used in only three countries: The United States of America, Liberia, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The customary system is often referred to as the Imperial System, but those two systems have some slight mathematical differences. I’m cool with thinking these two systems are pretty much the same because it makes my head hurt to think otherwise. Either way, the customary/imperial system is a little complicated and a tad high maintenance.

There is also an issue with how weight is measured in the  customary system (hint: Weight depends on the force of gravity: W=m×g). This is an issue scientists and engineers really care about.

The modern metric system, also called International System of Units (SI), is the system of measurement most of the world and scientists use. In my everyday life, I use the customary system because that is what I’m used to. In my science classroom, I preferred measuring using the metric system since that’s what scientists and engineers around the world used. The cool thing about the metric system is that everything is based on the power of 10 and the prefixes are easy to remember. Moreover, mass*  which is the amount of matter/stuff something contains does not depend on gravity, and that (like I’ve already stated) is pretty important to scientists and engineers.

Honestly, I like the metric system because I don’t have to deal with fractions as often compared to the customary system. 1/4 of an inch? 3/4 of an inch? 2/3 of a cup? Puh-Lease! In all honesty, I try to live my live fraction free.

Metric System Chart

Mnemonic Device for the Prefixes: King Henry Died Drinking Chocolate Milk *

Mnemonic Device for the Prefixes: King Henry Died By Drinking Chocolate Milk**

As an American elementary classroom teacher, I was always required to teach the customary and metric systems. My students needed to be familiar with both systems since they could possibly encounter both systems in everyday life. When doing science labs, I required my students to measure using the metric system. The more my students measured; the more comfortable they became with using and understanding metric units. And we didn’t do any of that conversion from one system to another nonsense. That’s confusing. NASA tried doing that with the Mars Climate Orbiter*** back in the 1990’s and look how that turned out!

All three countries that primarily use the customary system also use some components of the metric system. Myanmar is now possibly moving towards completely using the metric system. On the other hand, the United Kingdom and a few other countries use elements of the imperial system in their primarily metric country. Sometimes it is all a mishmash mess of melodramatic measuring mayhem.

6 Random Measurement Facts:

  • Humans first used body parts as a unit of measure.
  • There have been a bunch of different calendars over the course of human history that measured time. The sun, moon, and even the Nile River are a few of the things on which calendars have been based.
  • The United States authorized the use of the metric system in 1866. Not sure what happened with that.
  • A jiffy is an actual unit of time as well as a delicious cornbread mix.
  • A light-year is a unit of distance not time.
  • An astronomical unit is the distance from the sun to the earth which is about 93 million miles (150 million km).


* Mass and weight are pretty much the same thing except weight depends on gravity and mass doesn’t. Weight=mass × the acceleration of gravity. See? Mathematically, the only difference is gravity. Don’t make a federal case out of it. Math does not lie honey.

**I have no evidence that King Henry died drinking chocolate milk. For all I know he was lactose intolerant. Furthermore, most King Henrys of England died before chocolate was even introduced to Europe from the Americas.

*** The Mars Climate Orbiter crashed due to inaccurate calculations because some of the engineers used metric units and others used customary units.

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3 thoughts on “Measurement: A Tale of Two Systems

  1. Hi K. Renae,
    Thank you for dropping by my site today. You found me at my new site,! I am self-hosting now. I’m still trying to iron out tech struggles. Sometimes I see you around the Internet, not too often. Great to see you today. Did you know I am a teacher too? Medieval Times history.

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