Universal Constants: A New Foundation of Measurement | NIST    >   Standardize - Achieve Precision

Journal Thread #1 / Prompt 3 - The Guardians

Step into the shoes of a systems engineer and imagine how you would manage an international team working together.

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Title of Activity: Journal Thread #1 / Prompt 3 - The Guardians

Brief Description: Students consider the challenge of communicating measurements in a precise way.

Target Grade Level: Grades 8-11

Discipline or Course: Physical Science

Estimated Time Required: 20 minutes

Individual / Partner / Group Work: Individual

Key Vocabulary:

  • Systems engineer
  • Precision
  • Process control

Teacher Prep:

This journal prompt asks students to not only appreciate the differences that can exist in measurement methods, but to think about how communication can improve precision. It asks the student to not only talk about standards of measurement but how to communicate those ideas in a way that diverse listeners (subcontracting engineers) will understand.

The rubric can be modified for student, whole class, or teacher use.

Possible Rubric

Area Novice Average Advanced
Constructing Explanations No explanation of measurement standards Reference to measurement standards but no specific information Clear explanation of measurement standards and why they are important
Communicating Information No discussion of communication for precision Mention of communication for precision without specific guidelines Specific guidelines for communication to improve precision are included.
Identification of arguments based on evidence No discussion of importance of precision Precision defined or described without examples Precision defined with examples


Mathematics is the language of science and engineering, which depend on measurements being "consistent, accurate, and fair for all… 3,000 languages on Earth," as they say in The Last Artifact. Standardizing measurement makes science and engineering more democratic for all.

Watch the video.

The Last Artifact - Precision Enables Better Science

Imagine that you are the systems engineer charged with completing a complex project. Each of the various components of the project are produced in a different country, by manufacturers with different educational, professional, and cultural backgrounds. They have tools made in different ways as well.

You are about to lead your first teleconference meeting with the international team. You want to motivate your subcontractors and establish guidelines to ensure that all of the measurements are consistent. They need to know what standards will be used, how precision will be achieved, and what that will mean for the project.

Develop a succinct presentation. Include background on measurement and how using common standards and procedures will help improve precision. Include tips so that each subcontractor knows how to speak and write in language all the others can understand.