My students tested on Monday-Wednesday of this week. For me, the worst part of testing is the lack of teaching. All day long I'm in the same room with my students, but can't teach them, talk with them, or laugh with them. It had a seriously negative impact on my happiness levels. Thank goodness for Thursday! As always, I didn't cover the entire 8th grade core before the test. The next item on my teaching agenda was Scientific Notation. I didn't want to dive into it too deeply on Thursday, though, since several students would be missing my class to finish testing. Enter my very favorite introduction to scientific notation and powers of ten: Cosmic Zoom.
Cosmic Zoom is an iMAX movie narrated by Morgan Freeman. It's about 30 minutes long, but I never watch the whole thing with my students. About seven minutes into the movie, they start zooming out by powers of ten to the furthest limits of the known universe. Then they zoom in on a single-celled paramecium and continue to zoom in to quarks - the smallest known building blocks of matter. I usually stop the video at this point.
After watching the video, I asked my students if we were zooming out at the same speed at the end of the cosmic zoom as we were at the beginning. Almost all students agreed that the speed increased as we zoomed out, but there was some confusion about what happened as we zoomed in on the paramecium. Eventually they agreed that if zooming out meant increased speed, then zooming in must mean decreased speed.
And because I can't help myself, I had my students turn their viewing guides over and we created a graph of the speed on the back. Interesting conversations about how to label the axes! What are the variables? Which label goes on the x-axis? Why? Once we got them labeled, I asked all of the students to trace in the air the shape the graph would make. Almost unanimous:
Inventing Scientific Notation
The next day, when I had the majority of my students back in class, we dived into the nuts and bolts of scientific notation, using this lesson by Dan Meyer. To make it easier to present, I created my own set of google slides based on the slides in Dan Meyer's post. Feel free to use the google slides, but lease read Dan Meyer's blog post, or they won't make sense at all. (Let me tell you, it's a pretty fun thing to see the looks on your students' faces when you tell them to get out their math notebooks and write down the word New Hampshire.)