At a convention I was at the presenter told the following anecdote:
I went through my sons’ toys and grabbed random objects as seen below.
Each student received either a 6 in ruler, 12 in ruler or a meter stick as they walked in the classroom. I then asked them to measure the length of the object in both centimeter and inches and compared the accuracy of both. This part was fun because I made sure the kids with large objects received small rulers and the ones with small objects got the meter stick.
We then calculated the volume of their object. This led to a lot of questions because we needed to figure out what was the better measurement to use for the calculation. After this, we answered the Essential Question for the day which was “How many of your object will fit into this room?” My room is an odd shape so the class needed to figure out how to find its volume as well as make the measurements of length, width and height with meter sticks.
Once each student calculated the number of their objects that fit in the room (the answer really surprised them as many of them had in the millions or even billions) we needed to discuss accuracy of their answers which is where significant figures came in.
As we just finished the Quarterly where they needed to use significant figures and scientific notation I saw a definite improvement in the scores involving those questions. There were still students who got those questions wrong, but I noticed during the exam students who were clearly recalling the rules we used and, hopefully, the activity.
Was this a fool proof method? Absolutely not. Did we have a lot more fun learning about something so dry as sig figs? Definitely!