In chemistry students often encounter liters, milliliters, cubic centimeters, and cubic meters. They frequently convert from liters to milliliters, and cubic centimeters to milliliters. A common misconception is that since 1000 mL = 1 L and 1 cm3 = 1 mL then it must be true that 1000 cm3 = 1 m3. To counteract that idea, I set up this display at the beginning of the course and the visual will help eliminate that incorrect assumption when we start to convert different volumes.

To set up the display you will need:

several one kilogram masses
several one gram masses
a one liter flask or beaker
twelve meter sticks and tape or a cubic meter kit from a science supply company

Make sure the display is in a location where students can pick up and feel the difference between the gram and kilogram, and see the difference in volume between the liter and cubic meter. To make the display a little more visual you can always add colored water to the flask or beaker.

As students visit the display, I ask them to record one item with which they are familiar that has the same mass or volume as each of these units. That will help them relate better to the unit, and if they forget, they can look back in their lab notebook to see what much each unit is worth.
Awesome. I could have used something like this when I was in school. A concrete example of something that, for some, can be very abstract. Thanks Alison, for shifting the cognitive load, one awesome demo at a time. :-D

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Bio: I'm a physics and chemistry teacher at a public school in Maryland and active in my local science teacher's association. I love building ... More »
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