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  • Writer's pictureBeccy Fox

How many ounces does your elephant weigh? Using imperial units of measure in 2022.

Imperial measurements have been in the news this year. The Brexiteers who have been harping back to a better world when there was a crown on their pint glass, were celebrating the alleged return of imperial measurements to mark the Queen’s jubilee. Quite frankly, I do not recall anyone ordering 470 ml of beer, pre-Brexit. However, I am old enough to recall changing to decimal currency and moving to metric measurement. In the early 70s, in preparation for this move to metric measurement, there were poems on the back of cereal packers to help us with the conversion.

These are the ones I remember (and still sometimes refer to!)

"Two and a quarter pounds of jam, weighs about a kilogramme"

"A litre of water’s a pint and three quarters"

"A metre measures three foot three, it's longer than a yard you see".

As a Brit, I tend to use a mixture of metric and imperial. I order a pint in the pub and understand the speed of my car better in miles per hour. However, I measure my own weight in kilogrammes and temperature in celsius. This anomaly has been cleverly documented in this hilariously accurate flow chart.

During online learning, my son was doing some maths practice on a website, but had not done so well on the measurement module. The website is American and uses imperial units, not units he is used to using. However, as I have mentioned, as a Brit he will have heard some imperial measurement vocabulary. It is not totally alien to him. A couple of the questions invited an educated guess. For example:

Which is a better estimate for the weight of an elephant?

  1. 6 tons b) 6 ounces


Which is a better estimate for the volume of an orange juice carton?

  1. 4 pints b) 4 tablespoons.

My son is at an IB school where learning is focussed on developing conceptual understanding and skills. Rather than switching on his frontal cortex and engaging his critical thinking skills, he was deciding he didn't know the vocabulary and was making an (uneducated) guess. He was focussing on the importance of the knowledge rather than the understanding, when he shoudl have been making connections and transferring his broader knowledge and understanding of measurement measurement to the problem. Yes, he would have had an easier time with the assessment if it was in metric, but after a conversation with him, he realised he could be successful with many of the questions, when applying and transfering his knowledge and understanding.

Having said that, , there were still some that were dependent on more knowledge of imperial units of measure for example:

Which is more, 32 ounces or 2 pounds?


What is the temperature outside on a cold, rainy day? Choose the most reasonable answer

  1. 40°F b) 25°F

This one even I struggled with, and we took to Google just to check.

As the great Sir John Jones said in a Keynote I was lucky enough to attend, “Why do you need a teacher when you’ve got Google?” Google can help us with our knowledge. If learning is purely knowledge based, then frankly, we can just use Google. However, we do need teachers to help develop our skills and understanding as well as our knowledge. So we can learn how to make connections, apply our knowledge to different situations, find patterns and question our understanding. So we can decide, or make an educated guess, about which imperial unit of measurement to use to weigh an elephant.


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