Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.
Watch this video lesson to learn what units are used in the metric system for measuring. Also, learn how easy it is to convert from one unit to another.
Metric Distance Units
This lesson focuses on the metric system. Specifically, the units used to measure distance or length in the metric system. The metric system is a decimal system of measuring. The basic unit for length using this system is the meter. One meter is a little bit longer than the width of a doorway.
The meter is called the basic unit because all other units to measure distance in the metric system are based on the meter. For example, to measure small things, such as the width of your belly button, you would use centimeters. Notice that this word also contains the word meter. To measure even smaller things, there is a millimeter. To measure larger distances, there is the kilometer. One kilometer is roughly half a mile.
Each of these measurement units also has an abbreviation. When written with a measurement, the centimeter is written as cm. So, four centimeters is written as 4 cm. The abbreviation for millimeter is mm, m for meter, and for kilometer, it is km.
Because this metric system is a decimal system, the conversions between these measurements are in multiples of 10. There are 10 millimeters in 1 centimeter, so you multiply by 10 to convert centimeters to millimeters and divide by 10 to convert millimeters to centimeters. There are 100 centimeters in 1 meter, so you multiply by 100 to convert meters to centimeters and divide by 100 to convert centimeters to meters.
There are 1,000 meters in 1 kilometer, so you multiply by 1,000 to convert kilometers to meters and divide by 1,000 to convert meters to kilometers. Remember, if you are going from larger to smaller, you multiply and if you are going from smaller to larger, you divide.
Let's look at a couple of examples to see how these conversions work.
Convert 54 millimeters to centimeters.
You are converting from millimeters to centimeters, which is going from smaller to larger, so you need to divide by 10. Dividing 54 by 10 gives you 54 / 10 = 5.4. So, 54 millimeters is equal to 5.4 centimeters.
Convert 2.3 meters to millimeters.
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Here, you are going from larger to smaller, so you need to multiply. What do you need to multiply by? You can do this in two steps. First, convert the meters to centimeters, and then the centimeters to millimeters. You know that there are 100 centimeters in 1 meter, so you first multiply by 100. 2.3 * 100 = 230. You know there are 10 millimeters in 1 centimeter, so you multiply the 230 by 10 to find how many millimeters there are. 230 * 10 = 2,300. Your answer is 2,300 millimeters. There are 2,300 millimeters in 2.3 meters. And you are done!
Let's review what you've learned. The metric system is a decimal system of measuring. The basic unit for length using this system is the meter. The other units for measuring length are millimeter, centimeter, and kilometer. The abbreviation for millimeter is mm, cm for centimeter, m for meter, and km for kilometer.
The conversions are multiples of 10. There are 10 millimeters in 1 centimeter, 100 centimeters in 1 meter, and 1,000 meters in 1 kilometer. When going from smaller to larger, you divide, and when you go from larger to smaller, you multiply. So, to convert from centimeter to millimeter, you multiply by 10. Converting millimeters to centimeters, you divide by 10.
When you are finished, you should be able to:
Recall the distance units used in the metric system and state their abbreviations
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