One-Day Scientific Notation Project

(This is a modification of a longer project I do with my 8th grade math class which asks students to use scientific notation to explore the scale of human impact on the earth.)

My algebra students are a fantastically curious bunch so I wanted to create a project that gave them lots of room for choice but could be completed in one day. (We are still almost desperately trying to make up for lost time from last year.) Here’s what I came up with:

Kids pick something that is seemingly incomprehensible in its scale and then make a comparison to try to make it more comprehensible to the human mind. (Can you see how this would appeal to the middle school kids?!)

I set them up for the project with a quote from Blaise Pascal and prompt them to think about how humans have developed tools to extend our perception:

Next I point out the limits of our comprehension as well, which sets us up to read “How Much is A Million.” (Don’t underestimate middle school love for a picture book!)

Next, I share the task along with two examples: Bill Bryson’s brilliant attempt to make the length of Earth’s history and human history understandable by shrinking all of Earth’s history into a 24-hour day and an illustration from a former student of mine who did the human impact version of the project.

“If you imagine the 4.5-billion-odd years of Earth’s history compressed into a normal earthly day…Dinosaurs plod onto the scene just before 11 P.M. and hold sway for about three-quarters of an hour. At twenty-one minutes to midnight they vanish and the age of mammals begins. Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant.” – Bill Bryson, A Brief History of Everything

Here are the materials I created:



A couple of the completed projects….which also remind me why I LOVE middle school kids:

**This one is a work in progress!**

As always, feedback welcome.

Always happy to hear from readers!