How-To: Convert Measurements

Curriculum Area: Mathematics/ Science

Grade Level: Yrs 3 and up

Application: Microsoft Excel 2002

Tip: Use the CONVERT function in Excel to convert measurements from one system to another.

Description: If students need to quickly and easily convert measurements from one system to another, Excel has a special, built-in function that can do exactly that. For example, if the class just finished reading a book that talked about measuring in meters, it would be helpful for them to understand the measurements in inches or even feet. Excel can do this type of converting in a matter of seconds. This is especially handy when students are too young to do conversion calculations.

Note: The Excel formula that does the converting automatically is appropriately called CONVERT. In order to use this function, the Analysis ToolPak must be installed and enabled through the Add-Ins dialog box. (See How To for details.)

More Information:

The CONVERT function looks like this:

The number is the value assigned to the from_unit that you are trying to convert. The from_unit is the unit of measurement that you are converting from, while the to_unit is the unit of measurement that you are trying to convert the number to.

The following example converts 200 minutes to hours:

Notice that the from_unit and the to_unit are abbreviations enclosed in quotation marks. When writing this type of formula, quotation marks are necessary. And you must use abbreviations that Excel "understands" in order for the CONVERT function to work properly.

Excel can convert many types of measurements. Some of the popular ones are listed below; see Excel Help for the entire list. Notice that some unit abbreviations are capitalized-capitalization makes a difference when writing the formula.

Weight and Mass from_unit or to_unit
Gram "g"
Pound mass "lbm"
U (atomic mass unit) "u"
Ounce mass "ozm"
Distance from_unit or to_unit
Meter "m"
Statute mile "mi"
Nautical mile "Nmi"
Inch "in"
Foot "ft"
Yard "yd"
Time from_unit or to_unit
Year "yr"
Day "day"
Hour "hr"
Minute "mn"
Second "sec"
Temperature from_unit or to_unit
Degree Celsius "C"
Degree Fahrenheit "F"
Liquid Measure from_unit or to_unit
Teaspoon "tsp"
Tablespoon "tbs"
Fluid ounce "oz"
Cup "cup"
U.S. pint "pt"
Quart "qt"
Gallon "gal"
Liter "l"

How To:
  1. Start Microsoft Excel.
  2. Before you begin typing your data, make sure the Analysis ToolPak is installed. To do this, select Add-Ins from the Tools menu, select Analysis ToolPak, and then click OK.


    NOTE: If this option is not installed yet, you will be asked to install it from your Microsoft Office XP CD. Once it is installed, you will be ready to use the CONVERT function.
  3. You might find it easier to read and interpret your data if you first create a new Excel spreadsheet containing a list of units that you need to convert (for example, minutes or degrees Fahrenheit).

    In the example below, the data has been typed down the A column, starting in cell A1.

    1 Minutes
    2 200
    3 321
    4 187
    5 60
    6 155
  4. In a different cell (for example, B1), type a title for the type of conversion you are about to make.
  5. Below this title (for example, in cell B2), type the formula that will convert the first number you typed. Use the following formula:
    =CONVERT(number,from_unit,to_unit) .

    IMPORTANT: For the number part of the formula, instead of typing the actual number, type the cell that the number is in (for example, A2). This will make it fast and easy to repeat or copy this formula down the column. For example, if the number is in cell A2, you would type A2 in the formula to represent the number.
  6. Next, copy the new formula down the column to complete the conversion for the other numbers in your list. To make copying go quickly, just double-click the AutoFill handle (the box in the bottom-right corner of the cell that contains the formula) to copy the formula down to the last row in which you typed numbers.

    Sample Spreadsheet That Converts Minutes to Hours:

      A B Actual Conversion
    1 Minutes Min. to Hours Min. to Hours
    2 200 =CONVERT(A2,"mn","hr") 3.33
    3 321 =CONVERT(A3,"mn","hr") 5.35
    4 187 =CONVERT(A4,"mn","hr") 3.12
    5 60 =CONVERT(A5,"mn","hr") 1.00
    6 155 =CONVERT(A6,"mn","hr") 2.58

    Sample Spreadsheet That Converts Degrees Fahrenheit to Degrees Celsius:

      A B Actual Conversion
    1 F Degrees F to Degrees C F to C
    2 32 =CONVERT(A2,"F","C") 0.0
    3 321 =CONVERT(A3,"F","C") 10.0
    4 187 =CONVERT(A4,"F","C") 37.8
    5 60 =CONVERT(A5,"F","C") -12.2
    6 155 =CONVERT(A6,"F","C") -17.8

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