Film: 5232

Education | 1970 | Sound | B/W


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Decimalisation and Metrification for children 1970's

This film was made shortly before decimalisation was introduced in UK, though decimal coins had been legal tender for several years already. It demonstrates the ways in which the new coinage is being explained to primary school children. Though children of mixed ability, it is striking that they are articulate and polite. They are also neatly dressed for school though they are not wearing formal uniform.

New coinage and measurement use units of ten and can therefore help each other, so, in the early stages they can work side by side. Adults may need to convert but these children never will. Those now in primary schools experience no difficulty and find they can use either method, moving easily from one to another. Conversion is more difficult and suitable only for the more advanced primary school child.

This film was made at Nottingham Mathematical Advisory Centre, using children of mixed ability from four different primary schools.

The children are measuring quantities of water and the height of model spacemen. They choose their own units, but if you wish to communicate your answers you must standardize the size of the bottles and other units of measurement. At first it is good enough to use the length of a foot or the span of a finger. Some children speak to the teacher. She leads them to a model of Goliath, which some of the children have made using cubits and spans. A cubit is the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger. They used their own cubits and spans, but then ended up with a mini giant, so they sought the help of the headmaster. His cubit was bigger. First they drew an outline on paper and discovered that, this time, Goliath would be bigger and so they discovered the discrepancy between their spans and those of the headmaster. They told other children of their findings. Children were measuring each other, first in metres and for the finer measurements in centimetres. Working on their own they made mistakes such as starting at the wrong end of the tape measure, but they were learning lessons they would not forget. None of these children had been learning about decimalisation for more than three weeks: they were being extended but within their capacity.

There is a discussion about approximations and comparisons. Accuracy is important. Later, silhouettes are used to measure surface area.

Meanwhile a policeman is helping the children with the measuring, at the same time using this opportunity to get to know the children in his area. They measure his height against that of a small model policeman. They are asked how tall is the policeman approximately and to estimate how much taller he is than the model.

The children have a rabbit and he is weighed in kilograms using a balance scale. They have made weights out of plasticine but make the mistake of putting the smaller weights on first. Again, it is better to find out rather than to be told.

The teacher explains that money and measurement are complementary because they are based on the system using tens. Litres can be used in this way too. She explains that conversion is not suitable for young children and is not necessary for them. The children are using real coins, apart from the 50p piece, which is not yet available. They practise shopping in their classroom in which there are shopping booths representing a greengrocer, a grocer, a clothes shop and others. The children go from shop to shop, buying what they need, paying and being given change.

Meanwhile, a boy who has not yet reached this stage, is being given individual help by another teacher, who is working with him using blocks and rods as counters. She places real coins on the blocks.

Two older children of about ten years old are dealing with a conversion chart. They realise that this large chart would not be convenient to take to the shops but they discover that the use of the five times table would serve just as well to convert shillings to new pence. They go on to use fractions and decimals. One boy notices that a metre ruler can be used to work out the change on a shopping trip as similar units are used for length and money.

To request more details on this film, please contact us quoting Film number 5232.