Universal Constants: A New Foundation of Measurement    >   Innovate - Get Excited

Journal Thread #2 / Prompt 3 - Chicken or Egg?

Watch the NIST Role Models discuss innovation, then think of something you'd like to measure. Can you come up with a new tool or technique?

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Title of Activity: Journal Thread #2 / Prompt 3 - Chicken or Egg?

Brief Description: Students consider how the desired degree of precision varies by the stated goal of the project or research.

Target Grade Level: Grades 8-12

Discipline or Course: Physical Science

Estimated Time Required: 20 minutes

Individual / Partner / Group Work: Individual

Key Vocabulary:

  • Precision
  • Accuracy

Teacher Prep:

This journal prompt involves three aspects: asking a question, proposing a tool to answer the question, and defining the degree of precision needed to get a satisfactory answer. Students could brainstorm a small element of a complex system or machine that is inside or at an odd angle, something very far away, or something very fragile (like a soap bubble).

The tool that is proposed might be mechanical or electronic. Given the information on interferometers in the lesson, electronic measurements would represent significant understanding. It should be clear why the proposed tool is needed and would work. The tool can be a modification of something that’s already available; it doesn’t have to be totally new or unique.

Finally, students need to think about how much precision is really needed. If the question was “What kind of soap makes the best bubbles?” measuring to the nanometer wouldn’t be appropriate. If the question involved the mass of a drug or etching on a microchip, the answer would be different.

Possible Rubric

Area Novice Average Advanced
Asking questions and defining problems No clear question or problem The question or problem is included but not explained The question or problem is included and explained
Design of measurement tool No clear explanation of a new measurement tool The new measurement tool is described but details are not provided. The tool is described clearly with details in text or drawings.
Using mathematics, arguing from evidence. No discussion of precision or no explanation of why a given level of precision is needed. A level of precision is provided but not supported by a good argument justifying it. Clear statement of level of precision with units and supporting argument.


Watch the NIST Role Models discuss innovation.

NIST Role Models - Innovating with Constants

Channel your frustration. Think of something you would like to measure but can’t. It might be because it is out of reach, in a tight space, or you might damage it by trying to touch it. It can be something very big or very small. Think about a question you could answer if you could measure that object.

Then imagine a new measurement tool that might help you accomplish the task. Describe the requirements of your tool, then draw a design for it. Think about the tool’s precision: What do you need for the question you’ve asked?