PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

Fifth Grade Math: Powers of Ten

Dear Families,

This week, the fifth graders viewed and discussed a video called Powers of Ten.  It’s a video make by IBM in the 1970s (which, by the way, the students thought was a really long time ago).  It began by looking at two people having a picnic on the Chicago waterfront at a distance of one meter.  It then zoomed out 10 times as far every 10 seconds.  So, basically, it was exploring exponential growth.

As the video zoomed further from the picnickers, it showed the distance numerically using exponents.  It was amazing to see how quickly multiplying by 10 moves us away from the original view.   At certain points, we stopped the video to make predictions, such as at what point would the full Earth be in view.  The students were shocked that it was not anywhere near 10 to the 19th or 20th power.

The video continued to zoom way out into space to a distance of 10 to the 24 power, which made us feel extremely insignificant in universe.  It then zoomed back into the picnickers and into a cell in the man’s hand.  This brought us into negative exponents for powers of ten.  This is not something that fifth graders need to know.  However, as we begin to explore decimal place value this week, it is a fascinating topic that always comes up.  Stay tuned!