Visualizing Large Numbers with Pennies

The Marvelous Penny!

It’s an oldie, but a goodie and one we’ve used a few times here before…

The MegaPennyProject

When we start discussing topics with very large numbers, for instance the finance worksheets from earlier this week, or atomic dimensions in chemistry, it’s helpful for kids to relate it to something familiar and physical. In a more adult context, I heard someone asked in an interview to estimate the number of pennies it would take to span the Golden Gate Bridge, which in case you were wondering…

4,200 feet
1
×
12 inches
1 foot
×
1 penny
0.75 inches
= 67,200 pennies

Imagining physical sizes of things is a great tool, even for adults. And if you can take those thought experiments beyond the usual “how many jellybeans in the jar” questions that can be demonstrated in real life, into the realms of “how big would a million pennies be?” it helps make these millions, billions and zillions all a bit more meaningful. The illustrations at the MegaPenny project are a fun place to start.

4 Comments »

  1. I have a 7, 9, and 10th grader and am looking to make some file folder games to help with math skills. I have searched online and seem only to find early years, do you have any suggestions where I can find some. I am mostly needing for my 10th grader who is a special needs child. The school recommended your site. They pull her bell work from here and said to keep helping her as much as I could this may help.

    Comment by ginny — January 31, 2012 @ 7:36 am

  2. Hi Ginny -

    I’m not sure what you mean by a file folder game, but maybe some other readers might chime in if they have suggestions.

    I try to motivate my two daughters to do math work by setting up goals for doing a given number or worksheets or for passing a timed test with no more than two or three wrong on it… Usually something small like a pack of trading cards or a cool sticker or something similar…

    Hope this helps,

    Dad

    Comment by Dad — January 31, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

  3. Thank you for this website! I am printing up many worksheets for my 71 year old husband who suffered a large stroke. He has an engineering background and loves Math. Your worksheets are helping him relearn the “basics”, including writing numbers, his name, & the date. It is a real process, and you have played a part in his recovery and progress! Also, thank you for not charging me to use your webpage! I tell everyone about your site! Mary

    Comment by Mary — March 27, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

  4. Thank you Mary… Your husband is truly blessed to have a loving partner to work through this challenging time with him, and I truly appreciate being able to help even in such a small way. Say hello to him for me and God speed on his recovery!

    Comment by admin — March 27, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

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