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How to Convert Units in the Metric System

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Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

When using the metric system, it is helpful to know how to convert units from other systems. In this lesson, explore the metric system, how to set up a conversion, and how to calculate those units, with some additional practice. Updated: 10/06/2021

The Metric System

When making a smoothie, your first step is to assemble some fruits. You then convert them into a smoothie using an appliance, like a blender. In addition to how great that smoothie will taste, you know what you're starting with (or the basic ingredients you need to make the smoothie), what you want to end up with (or the final smoothie product), and what you need to get there (or the methods for producing the smoothie). We're going to apply a very similar three-pronged approach to converting units in the metric system in this lesson.

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  • 0:00 The Metric System
  • 0:34 How to Set Up the Conversion
  • 1:45 How to Calculate
  • 4:27 Additional Practice
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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How to Set Up the Conversion

So, how do we convert units in the metric system? It's actually very easy. Here's what you need to know for every single metric system conversion you'll ever perform:

  1. The basic ingredients; what you're starting with
  2. The smoothie; what you want to end up with
  3. The blender; what you need to get there

We'll call this blender a conversion factor in the problems to come, since it helps us convert the ingredients into the final product. This conversion factor is a key part of the process. We can't get a smoothie without a blender or some other appliance, right? So where are you going to get your conversion factor? In this lesson, we'll provide you with one. When working on other conversion problems, you may need find one online or in a textbook. Understanding the relationship between a metric unit's name and its value can also serve as your conversion factor. For instance, anything that begins with 'kilo-,' like kilometer, is 1,000 of that unit (1,000 meters). But this lesson isn't about what the metric units are or how they're signified. It's about converting from one metric unit to another, so we'll assume you know this already.

How to Calculate

So, let's start making some smoothies! Here's a sample problem: convert 2,000 meters into kilometers.

  1. What are our fruity ingredients? We're starting with 2,000 meters (m).
  2. What is our smoothie? We want to end up with kilometers (km).
  3. What is our blender? The conversion factor is 1,000 meters per 1 kilometer.

This is the same thing as saying 1 kilometer / 1,000 meters. In other words, there's 1 kilometer in 1,000 meters. Both statements mean exactly the same thing. This nuance is very important for you to remember; otherwise, you won't set up your problem correctly. In our kitchen, we're always going to cook from left to right, just like we read a book. When setting up our equation, we'll always put the fruity ingredients first, followed by the blender and then, after the equals sign, the finished product, the smoothie. Our equation should look like this:

(2,000 m / 1) * (1 km / 1,000 m) = km

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