How Much Is a Billion?
Author: Anne Monk
Overview: In these scenarios and this activity, students get a sense of how big a billion really is. This is necessary in order to understand deep time.
Grade Span: 38
Make copies of asterisk pages if using that part of the activity.
Time: A few minutes to one class period
Grouping: Whole class
Life has been on earth for a very long time. Most of us have trouble envisioning a million years and find the idea of a billion years incomprehensible. But, it is important for students to get a sense of deep time so that they may begin to understand that life has had plenty of time to do what it has doneevolve into innumerable forms again and again, resulting in what we see around us today and what we see in the fossil record.
Teacher Resources: Send students to Life Has a History at http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/education/explorations/tours/intro/.
Use the little scenarios below to jog your students minds about deep time. Continue with the activity if you deem it is worth the investment in paper to get the point across.
Vocabulary: million, billion
Procedure: To set the stage for understanding what a billion is, select from the following scenarios to share with the students:
Or you could take a little cross-country trip. If you start your journey in Seattle, WA you could head for...
San Diego, CA (1710 km),
then on to San Antonio, TX (2100 km),
next stop Orlando, FL (1890 km),
continue to Portland, ME (2260 km),
return to Seattle, WA (4980 km),
head out for Nashville, TN (3610 km),
drive to Denver, CO (1900 km)
and have enough pennies left to go skiing in Aspen.
She will be able to say the small numbers like 4 or 31 fairly rapidly, but most of the numbers between one and a billion are long and difficult to pronounce. When she starts counting the larger numbers like 467,051,372 she is really going to slow down (how long does it take you to say four hundred and sixty-seven million, fifty-one thousand, and three hundred seventy-two?). If we allow your friend just 3 seconds to say each number and she takes no breaks at all, it will take her 3 billion seconds to finish counting.
3 billion seconds = 50,000,000 minutes
= 83,333.333 hours
= 34,722.2 days
= 95.1 years is how long it will take your friend to count to 1 billion
A 1 meter step = 1 billion meters traveled
1,000 meters = 1 kilometer so a billion meters = 1,000,000 kilometers
If you walk in a straight line you will be forced to leave the Earths surface. Your hike will take you to the moon and back with enough distance left over to almost make it to the moon a second time. You will definitely want your spacesuit for this one, and as much trail mix as you can carry!
Of course if the idea of space travel doesnt appeal to you, you could simply circle the Earth at the equator (40,000 kilometers) 25,000 times!
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