MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > String Scientific Notation/Metric System Demonstration

String Scientific Notation/Metric System Demonstration

Erin Krueger
Henning High School


After a brief discussion of the metric system and scientific notation, the students will place notecards labeled with various scientific notation (10^1, 10^-1, etc.) on the string/number line.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed to help students visualize where scientific notation falls on the number table. Student will correctly place numbers in scientific notation on the number line. It is amazing how many students put 10^-1 between 0 and -1 on the number line!!

This activity is designed to help students realize that an increase from 10^2 to 10^3 is really very large! Students will describe not raising 10 to the n+1 power greatly increases the value.

This activity gets students thinking about what a number like 10^24 really means. It puts a value on that number that is hard for students to visualize.

Context for Use

This is something that I often do in Chemistry when teaching scientific notation and going over the metric system. It is important because we use the metric system for experiments and therefore data analysis. It only take 10 - 15 minutes depending on how far you want to go with it. It can easily be coupled with more metric system analysis, although students should have some idea of the metric system before this activity. Most students know how to move over the decimal at this point to determine conversions within the metric system. This would be very easy to use in other settings.

Subject: Biology, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8), High School (9-12)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12

Description and Teaching Materials

1. Powers of 10 video (via Youtube)
2. Have student help you hold up string (20 meters)
3. Have notecards pre-made with the following numbers on them. 0, 1, -1, 10^1, 10^2, 10^3, 10^-1, 10^-2. Ask a student to put the 0, 1, and -1 notecards on the line. Make sure all students are in agreement. (I use clothline pins to pin up notecards, tape works too)
4. Ask another student to put the 10^1 notecard on and again check for agreement. Do this for 10^2 and 10^3 as well.
5. NOW ask a student to put on the 10^-1 notecard and check for agreement; this one usually throws them off. If no one figures it out, correct them.
6. Ask the previous student to then put on the 10^-2 notecard on (allow them some confidence)
7. Follow up with a written paragraph from each student with the following questions:
1. What did you learn from this activity? Be specific about what happens as you raise/decrease 10 to another power.
2. How big and how small do you think 10^24 and 10^-24 are? Where do you think it would fall if our string could go as far as you needed it to? Vining? Fergas Falls? Further?

Teaching Notes and Tips


The assessment is the questions at the conclustion of the activity/demonstration.

References and Resources