Hang a Million
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Hang a Million

Gwynn Pealer

Target age or ability group: Any age.
Class time required: This activity can take all of one class period or any arrangement of time that fits a schedule.
Materials and equipment: 200 sheets of paper with 5000 X's printed on each and 2 rolls of clear tape. A ladder is helpful but optional.
Summary of activity: Students hang 200 sheets of paper, each with 5000 X's, around the classroom. When completed, this gives them a concrete example of 1,000,000 which will be useful in getting a feel for the lengths of time involved in evolution.
Prior knowledge, concepts or vocabulary necessary to complete activity: None.

Teacher instructions:

1. Before class begins, announce that we will hang a million from the ceiling (or wall). Students want to know, "A million what?" Answer: a million X's because X stands for an unknown and we might want to talk about a variety of "millions" - or "millionths."

2. Determine how many sheets must be hung by each class to get all 200 sheets hung in one day. For example, four classes must each hang 50 sheets. Then determine how many sheets each group of two students must hang each class period to reach this number. While students work on another activity, they can stop what they are doing for a few minutes to hang their sheets then return to work.

3. After the million is hung, there is now a visible reference for any discussion about size. This could include the size of a micron - a meter is divided into this many parts to get 1 micron. If a millimeter is divided into this many pieces, each piece would be the size of a small atom. The nearest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri which is 4.3 light-years away - a light-year is about 6 trillion miles - 6 million times what has been hung. If the earth is 4.5 billion years old, that's 4.5 thousand times what has been hung.

Comments: Clearly, this activity can be done anyway that suits a teacher's plans and can be hung anywhere that is useful. It is just a visualization of an amount that is hard for us to grasp. Each class thinks they must surely have hung a million but it takes all day to hang all 200 sheets and leaves an impressive chain that winds back and forth through the classroom. If students make a geologic timeline for evolution, this "million" makes it clear how long a time we are discussing.

On to Evolution: Rap It Up!
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