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Use Your Right Brain To Convert Fahrenheit and Celsius Degrees

Updated on October 12, 2012
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Most of us know that different people learn in different ways. For example, some learn best by reading or listening, some by hands-on experience, and some through visual stimulation.

I know that my best learning mode is through visual stimulation. Give me a bar graph or a pie chart, and I'll retain the data it represents, but give me a table of figures and I'll recall almost nothing, even a short time later. And please, don't recite data without giving me something to view at the same time; I guarantee that within a few seconds I'll stop listening while I imagine myself basking in the sun on a white sand beach.

Scientists have found that different abilities and modes of learning can be associated with either the left or the right side of the brain. Simply stated, the left brain modes of learning include sequential, symbolic, and linear (think language and mathematics), while the right brain modes include holistic, concrete, and intuitive learning modes (think visualization and imagination).

Traditional instructional models appeal more to left-brain characteristics, requiring us to read, listen, and interpret symbols. However, some of us "get it" more effectively with models that present information in less linear but more visual and holistic ways.

When it comes to learning to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and the other way around, visual cues may make the task easier for those who are more right-brain oriented.

How Did Most of Us Learn to Convert Fahrenheit and Celsius?

Through a Mathematical Formula, of Course

When we were taught in school to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius, or the other way around, it was probably through this mathematical formula:

C = F - 32 (5/9)

F = (C x 9/5) + 32

Some of us may also have learned a quick trick, a mental math shortcut, for roughly estimating the conversions by using one-half instead of five-ninths, two instead of nine-fifths, and 30 instead of 32:

C = (F - 30) / 2

F = (C x 2) + 30

Some learners may also have committed the conversions to memory (whether using the precise numbers or their shortcuts) by reading them as a text narrative and then reciting them:

To get Celsius, subtract 30 from the Fahrenheit and then divide by two.

To get Fahrenheit, multiply the Celsius by two and then subtract 30.

Right-brain learners who don’t retain information well by reading it, hearing it, or processing a mathematical formula might have better luck with a visual approach.

The Circular F / C Thermometer

Although I find this thermometer design attractive, I have trouble "seeing" the relationships between the two degree systems when they are arranged in an arc.
Although I find this thermometer design attractive, I have trouble "seeing" the relationships between the two degree systems when they are arranged in an arc. | Source

The Vertical F / C Thermometer

The thermometer outside my kitchen window, on my porch. I can "see" the relationships between F and C degrees much more easily in this vertical format, as opposed to the circular format.
The thermometer outside my kitchen window, on my porch. I can "see" the relationships between F and C degrees much more easily in this vertical format, as opposed to the circular format. | Source

A Visual Right-brain Approach to Converting Fahrenheit and Celsius

I’ve been spending a good deal of time in these last months outside on my front porch, looking at the outdoor thermometer (and the rhododendron), trying to will spring into an early arrival. While looking at the thermometer, which displays in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, I got to thinking about friends of mine in countries other than the US, other places such as the Cayman Islands and Belize, where Celsius is used to describe temperature.

The other day, on a Skype conversation, a Canadian friend told me it was a rather nice day, nine degrees Celsius. Well, I knew it wasn’t freezing, because zero Celsius would not necessarily indicate a nice day, but no association with the Fahrenheit equivalent popped into my head fast enough for me to say something like, “Sounds like you don’t need that down parka today.” I really couldn’t grasp a good idea of what kind of temperature she was experiencing fast enough to keep me from feeling, if not uneducated, at least awkward.

One morning shortly thereafter, while out on my front porch ruing winter’s continued presence, it came to me in a moment of inspiration that I didn’t have to remember any formulas or any strings of text. All I had to do was take a mental snapshot of the relationships of numbers as they appeared on the face of my thermometer.

I noticed that between +10 and +100 degrees F, the temperature range I’m most likely to be exposed to in the northeast US where I live, the corresponding Celsius numbers range from -10 to approximately +35. I instantly saw a visual relationship that at once cemented in my mind that my 10-degree F temperature is my Canadian friend’s -10 degree Celsius temperature. Likewise, at the other end of my likely exposure range, my 100 and her 35 now burned themselves into a mental image.

To this visual image I added the equivalents I already knew: My friend’s zero is my +32 (the freezing mark) and her 37 is my 98.6 (human normal body temperature).

Here’s what I see in my mind:

Source

Although I now have a good grip on 10 and -10, 32 and 0, and 98.6 and 37, I’m still quite a way from knowing whether it’s a light sweater day or a tank top and shorts day when I hear the temperature in Celsius. So it’s time to make another mental image. I think about my ideal outdoor day where I can wear jeans, sandals, and a cotton shirt in total comfort. For me, that’s about 70 degrees F. But when it gets to be 80 degrees F, it’s time for shorts and a tank top.

Here is what I now see:

Source

Granted, there are many gaps to fill in, but now I have a mental image that allows me to not feel like an idiot when my Canadian friend says, "OMG, it’s 35 here!" Now I can readily empathize and say, "I hope you're in your shorts and tank top!"

How F / C Conversion-able Are You?

I am American (or from the Cayman Islands or Belize) and I'm as comfortable with Celsius as I am with Fahrenheit.

See results

I am NOT American (nor from the Cayman Islands or Belize) and I'm as comfortable with Fahrenheit as I am with Celsius.

See results

The Visual Approach Illuminates the Math

Another gift presented itself while I was looking for visual cues to estimate Fahrenheit and Celsius conversions. I realized that for every five-degree change in Celsius, there was an approximate ten-degree change in Fahrenheit. This realization helped me fill in the gaps of my mental images. If I hear “30 degrees C” I jump back to the 0 / 32 equivalent burned into my brain cells, quickly compute that there are six fives in 30, so there must be 60 (ten F degrees for every 5 C degrees) Fahrenheit degrees above freezing, and thus I know that the temperature at 30 degrees C is my approximate 90 degrees.

As you've guessed by now, I'd actually come to a formula, based on my front-porch experiences watching temperatures displayed in both C and F, that closely approximates the C = (F - 30) / 2 and F = (C x 2) + 30 estimation calculations I described earlier. The point is that my learning style required that I make visual or holistic sense out of something before I could find a permanent place for it in my mind. Just memorizing a simple pair of formulas would not do.

Don't Have a Thermometer Handy but Need To Know the Temperature?

Here's an unusual way to tell approximate outdoor temperature using a rhododendron shrub:

How To Tell Outside Temperature by Observing Rhododendron Leaves

Give the Right Brain Approach a Try

Right brain, left brain learning theory is far more complex than what I’ve described here. However, I wanted to give you an example of how a right-brain learning process can work should you want to empathize with a friend about weather conditions when both of you live in Fahrenheit / Celsius opposing universes.

In case you are wondering, it took me hours to write this article, but only minutes to establish a working method for converting Fahrenheit and Celsius, once I made the pictures in my mind. With images of icicles, penguins, jeans, tank tops, and oral thermometers at home in my brain, the rest came easily, including the doubling-back to the quick-trick estimating method.

If you've had difficulty making quick conversions from one degree system to another, give the right-brain approach a try. I wonder what kinds of images you'll come up with?

© 2012 Sally's Trove. All rights reserved.

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    • annemaeve profile image

      annemaeve 5 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Excellent Hub on a tricky topic, Sally! As you know, it's frighteningly easy to bore me to tears on math-related subjects, but I not only understood this whole piece, I enjoyed reading it! What's going to stick in my head is body temp at 37 C - a hot hot summer day.

      Love you, love your hubs.

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 5 years ago

      You have written a very well written hub. I also like the formatting. Voted up!

    • Woody Marx profile image

      Woody Marx 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Really fascinating and something to keep on experimenting with. It could be applied, of course, to many other subjects that are traditionally only left-brain pursuits. Things like chemistry formulas,learning musical notation,and so on. The metric system we have here in Canada is not in miles but kilometres, certainly something your system would apply to so that going over the speed limit for U.S. visitors would be less a worry, or 'just how far is it to Montreal anyway?' etc. :)

    • Sally's Trove profile image
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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      @annemaeve, thank you so much for your supportive words. Yes, I know math can bore you to death. I really wrote this article for you. ;)

      @iamaudraleigh, thank you for the good words and the vote. :)

      @Woody Marx, you are right that this strategy can be used in learning other subjects. One of my favorite examples is learning anatomy (botany, biology, and more) by drawing what you observe. As for speed displayed in miles and kilometers, I believe most vehicles on the road today in the US display both, but of course, that doesn't mean everyone is comfortable with both. You've got me thinking now! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. ~Sherri

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      So very interesting.

      I vote up and here's to many more also.

      Take care;

      Eddy.

    • Sally's Trove profile image
      Author

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Hi Eddy! Thanks so much for the good words and the vote. :)

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      I usually just double the Celsius temperature and add 30. Not too scientific but close enough :)

      Excellent idea for a hub :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Oh Sally, You are going to make me think and use my brain aren't you? Well you actually did and thank you!:)

      Very interesting hub...who would have thought just by you studying your thermostat you created this hub. Now that's what I call creative and using both sides of your brain. Way to go!

    • Sally's Trove profile image
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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      UW, exactly right! But for some of us right-brain learners, something that easy is still difficult to grasp...unless there's a visual learning cue first. And can you go as easily the other way? :)

    • Sally's Trove profile image
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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Glad to put your brain to work, Sunshine. It's nice to have such company. :)

    • Feline Prophet profile image

      Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

      So, it's 33 degrees Celsius here, and I guess you'll have figured out summer's on its way before I complete the sentence! :)

      Growing up in India we never paid much attention to Fahrenheit and complicated conversions - it's only with the widening of my horizons after the Internet that I have to try to figure out what the temperature in the US, for instance, implies in Celsius!

    • Sally's Trove profile image
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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      LOL, FP. Spring isn't hardly on its way here, let alone summer. Yes, 33 C is pretty toasty; if I were there, I'd be in shorts and a tank (don't know how acceptable that would be!).

      Growing up in the US, I know F, and truthfully, before the net, unless you were in a scientific discipline, C (called Centigrade then) was of no interest.

      I like your use of the word "implies". There are implications all over the place, not just belonging to measurement conversions. It depends on how we want to see and use implications if we want to better relate to others around the globe.

      I've never had a conversation with a feline about this. :)

    • Feline Prophet profile image

      Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

      See now, we felines are surprising creatures! We can talk about the darnedest things!! :D

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 5 years ago

      I found this to be an enjoyable read. When I saw the title I thought, gee, this is not something I can embrace, given my aversion to math.

      I found it interesting to actually see how your brain works :)

      As to the topic, your two sentence formula wowed me. To get Celsius, subtract 30 from the Fahrenheit and then divide by two. To get Fahrenheit, multiply the Celsius by two and then subtract 30.

      How simple! Which brings me to why would you want to do all those mental gyrations when two sentences sum it up? :)

      I'm with Anne. I share her dislike of math. Just the thought of trying to figure out the differences in temps, miles or currency for that matter, makes my head spin. You know me, I want the answers without having to figure it all out :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very interesting reminder of how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa. After reading this hub that formula may stay in my mind for a while. Thanks! Interesting and useful votes and will share!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I started reading this, but then had to leave to go paint a picture and listen to some music. (LOL!) But seriously, a very helpful hub - for those of us not carrying around our smart phones with calculators or apps to help us with a Celsius/Fahrenheit conversion.

      Cheers, Steph

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      Howdy Sally's_Trove - Hot or cold, this article was fun to read.

      Gus :-)))

    • Sally's Trove profile image
      Author

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      @Trish, yes, I know you well my dear friend! I wrote this one for you so your head wouldn't have to spin too far and too fast. lol

      @Peggy, that's what I was goin' for, stickability! Whether it's in terms of the simple formula or the visual approach. Thanks so much for the votes and share. :)

    • Sally's Trove profile image
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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      LOL, Steph! Thanks for reading and leaving the cool comments. :)

      Thanks, Gus! Glad you enjoyed.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 5 years ago

      Hey, thanks! Just the other day I was trying to remember the conversion from C to F because a temperature overseas was given in C. I did remember something about adding 32, but I couldn't remember the formula. I was too lazy to go look it up. Voted you up. There needs to be an "appreciated" button.

    • Sally's Trove profile image
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      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for your super comment, MizBejabbers. I LOVE being appreciated! :)

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thinking about converting temperatures makes my head hurt, and I was actually going to avoid reading this hub, just like I just avoid making the conversion, even when I know it would be good for me to know the temperature during my vacation. Mostly, because I can't seem to keep that formula in my head. But I am so glad that I did read this hub, because what you said makes a lot of sense to me now. Your visual graphic helped a lot. Voted up.

    • Sally's Trove profile image
      Author

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Millionaire Tips, I'm so glad you risked a headache to read this hub. It's great to know the visual, right brain approach is helpful to you. Thanks so much for the great comment and the vote. :)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 4 years ago from UK

      As a post grad teacher I am well versed on right brain left brain and try to model my teaching ( whether it is the concrete clinical values or abstract consultation theories) to straddle all learning styles. It is always a struggle to get the balance right. The analog right brain and the digital left brain are in constant debate especially when one predominates in one's style.

      You have done it so wonderfully well with this concept such an illustrative example on right brain learning. Fantastic. Your tone, the development of the idea and build up to a comprehensive, pragmatic and common sense approach is utterly fascinating. Love it. voted up and awesome!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 years ago from South Africa

      Very interesting hub. We are working in C so I constantly have to convert F to C in order to get half an idea of what the temperatures exactly are in countries working in F. I cannot understand why this have to be - why not determine an international measurement?

    • Sally's Trove profile image
      Author

      Sherri 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Partly in jest, but because Americans don't want to move from our own standards to anyone else's? Clearly the rest of the world (mostly) agrees among themselves, then there is us, US. :) Big topic.

      Thanks for reading, finding interest, and commenting, MartieCoester.

    • BristolBoy profile image

      BristolBoy 3 years ago from Bristol

      I am from the UK (where the older generation still use Fahrenheit but the majority use Celsius) and I am able to change between the two fairly easily!

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 16 months ago from Australia

      I greatly enjoyed this hub, but there's a mistake you might like to correct. Where you wrote "To get Fahrenheit, multiply the Celsius by two and then subtract 30", you should actually be adding 30 ... not subtracting it.

      As you may have guessed, I learn more easily from words not pictures. :)

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 16 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Sally, great hub. Congrats on HOTD! Now I knew why I had such a bad time with math in my education. This is so informative and interesting at the same time.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 16 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD!! Well done. I don't do math. I can't remember formulas. I'm doing well to just keep my checkbook balanced. So your visual cues were great.

      I did notice once before when studying such a dual-system thermometer, however, that at a certain point below zero (I forget exactly, but I think it's about 20 degrees below--the differences zero out as well, and it is the same temperature on both the F and C scales....it may be when it's colder than that, but if you look at your round thermo image, you'll see the differences shrinking at around the 40 below mark... ;-)

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