What
is a Million?
You hear people use the number "one
million" all of the time: "The
jackpot is worth over a million dollars!
" "About a million people live
in Phoenix (or San Francisco, or Dallas,
or Detroit, or Baltimore)." "I've
told you a million times to make your
bed!" "Who wants to be a millionaire?"
You
hear "a million" so often that
you may think you know how big a million
is. But do you really? Have you really
been told a million times to make your
bed? Have you met everyone in San Francisco?
Have you ever tried to count a million
dollars one at a time? For that matter,
have you ever just tried to count to a
million? Ten thousand? Or even one thousand?
Counting at a rate of one number every
second, it takes about 15 minutes to count
to one thousand.
How
long would it take to count to a million?
Well, counting once per second (easy at
the start, but tough when you reach the
hundred thousand mark), eight hours per
day, seven days per week (no weekends
off), it would take you a little over
a month to count to one million!
Getting
a million of anything is not easy. How
large a room does it take to put in a
million leaves, or a million blades of
grass, or a million grains of sand? How
long would it take to gather the stuff?
Doing any task a million times, like picking
blades of grass or making your bed, takes
a long time!
One
possible way to actually see a million
individual objects is to use a computer
and print out a million asterisks. Using
a word processor on a computer, type out
one page filled with nothing but asterisks.
Print the page and count the number of
asterisks there are on the page. Divide
this number into one million to see how
many pages it will take to print one million
asterisks. Print out the right number
of pages and put them all up on one wall.
Then you will be able to see one million
objects all at once!
(This
is a project best done once with a whole
classroom of students. It takes a lot
more paper and covers a lot more wall
than you probably think!)
Once you have seen a
million asterisks, calculate how many classroom walls, like the
one you used, it will take to put up one billion asterisks (Don't
actually do it. It will take too much paper!)
Or just for fun, see
how many candles you can put on a birthday cake and then try and
figure out how large a birthday cake you would need to celebrate
Mother Earth's birthday!
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