This morning in math, I read the book How Much is a Million, by David Schwartz. Most children love to think about and explore REALLY big numbers. It is fun for them (and adults too) to contemplate the immensity of things - the size of our oceans, our galaxy, or the number of stars in the sky. Besides guiding children to be in awe of numbers like a million, a billion, a trillion, this book also "combats the increasingly evident problem of innumeracy". The author defines innumeracy as mathematical illiteracy, saying, "In a society where big numbers are commonplace we cannot afford to have such appalling number ignorance as we do." This is why it is so terribly important, especially in the early years, to guide children to have more and more number sense, and why we have been working on this concept from day one. Place value, of course, is a huge part of really understanding numbers.
Before reading the story, I asked, "How long would it take you to count from 1 to 1,000,000?" Answers ranged from 1 year to 1 day. (It turns out the answer is about 23 days.) Then I asked how many tally marks they could make in just one minute. This idea was immediately exciting and engaging - each child was eager to find out. First, they timed me - I made over 200 tally marks in 60 seconds. This led most children to change their original estimate. Then I timed them.
It was important to organize our tally marks so they could be easily counted. Children understood that they could simply count by fives, since that is the way tally marks are drawn - but was there an even easier way? Yes, we could have two groups of five on each line, and then we could quickly count by tens.
After they counted their individual tally marks, each group of children had to find out how many they did altogether. We took that data and found out how many our math class did together - 840 in one minute!
Our tally sheets were then taped together. We are going to go for 10,000 by the end of the week. Along the way, students will be exploring how numbers in the base ten numbers system grow and will compare the relative sizes of numbers. They will solve addition and subtraction problems involving large numbers. Best of all, they will get a chance to be part of a cooperative and fun group project!