When Sally Mitchell, a science teacher at East Syracuse Minoa Central High in Syracuse, New York, spoke to a group of students at the recent U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl, she remarked that one of her projects is to “finally metricate the U.S.A. once and for all.” Much to Mitchell’s surprise, her comment about the metric system—officially it’s known as the International System of Units (SI)—evoked a strong reaction. She received a standing ovation from about 300 middle-school scientists.
Mitchell has been recognized as an outstanding teacher by Barnes & Noble, RadioShack, and the Boy Scouts of America. She’s also won numerous awards, including the American Chemical Society’s James Bryant Conant Award, which recognizes outstanding high-school chemistry teachers. She says the recent wild applause by the kids, however, truly confirms her metric mission.
“It was amazing to see the support of the the little ones. I do it for their future,” said Mitchell, who is this year’s Albert Einstein Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy. Mitchell is tasked with producing an instructional video to help teachers deeply understand and easily teach the decimal-based metric system.
Hold the hate email, though. Mitchell and many others who consider themselves metric proponents are well acquainted with measurement controversy and vitriol. She recounts the time she called her local airport—an international hub—merely to inform them that their new sign displayed only Fahrenheit, instead of Celsius and Fahrenheit. (Technically, Celsius isn’t even metric but Americans like to think of it as in the metric-ish family.) Soon the issue blew up, and she found herself on a radio program and featured in the local newspaper as a metric pusher. Then Facebook threats of bodily harm started rolling in. Seriously.