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of the
June - August 2005
Math Cats
Writing Contest:
really big numbers

The contest was introduced like this:

Do you think you've ever seen a thousand things all in one place? How about a million? How about a billion?

  • Have you ever been in a really huge crowd of people? (How many people do you think were in the crowd?)
  • How many blades of grass are there on a nearby lawn or field?
  • How many grains of sand are there on the beach?
Don't start counting!!! But maybe you can think of a way to estimate how many people, or blades of grass, or grains of sand you were looking at.

Or can you help us begin to understand a really big number?

  • Can you help us understand how far it is from the Earth to the sun?
  • Can you help us understand how many people live on this planet?
  • Can you help us understand a million, billion, or trillion dollars?
To help us understand a really big number, maybe you can compare it to something else that is a bit easier for us to understand. To get some good ideas, you might like to visit this page:      How much is one million?

We like writing that is lively, creative, detailed, and personal. Remember - this is a math writing contest: we are interested in how you express yourself.

First Place - "How Big Is a Really Big Number?"   by Anatole Wiering
Second Place - "Really Big Numbers: What is a Million?"  by Niki Loo
Third Place    - "Billions of Mice"   by Travis King

We're helping a special friend of Math Cats, too!

* First Place:

"How Big Is a Really Big Number?"
by Anatole Wiering
age 8, grade 4, Cloverleaf Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

I like really big numbers. Big numbers are interesting for me. I like things in big numbers. For example, I like collecting a lot of things. I collect bottle caps, CTA bus cards, flower labels, and pennies. I like counting pennies and bottle caps.

What is a really big number? A really big number is many things. For example, a beach is a really big number of sand grains. What is the difference between a really big number and a big number? A big number you can count to, but a really big number is much harder to count to. For example, 30 is a big number, and 75,000 is a really big number. I can't count all the sand grains at the beach. I can't even count all the sand grains in my hand.

Another example of a really big number is if you go to page 119 in the book Math for Smarty Pants (Little, Brown and company, 1982).You will see a big pile of circles on the page. Those are all bottle caps -- over 100,000 of them! I can't count them. If I started to count them, I would be stuck in counting them. But I would like to collect them.

I would like to be able to count to a really big number. A Googol is a really big number. It is a 1 with 100 zeros after it. I wonder if anyone counted to a Googol. The highest number I counted to was 2,334. The highest number my cousin Dale counted to was 500,234. It took him hours and hours and hours.

I timed how long I counted:
I counted to 100 in 37 seconds, which means I would count to 1,000 in about 6 :10 minutes.
I counted to 222 in 1:27:03 minutes.
I counted to 444 in 3:27:93 minutes.
I counted to 1,000 in 6:33:21, which means I could count to 2,000 in 13:06:42.

I have a really big number of pennies. Probably over 15 dollars worth! I can't count them. What I did with my pennies is put 100 pennies into a measuring cup.
100 pennies fill 1/3 cup.
300 pennies fill 1 cup.
3,000 pennies fill 5 pints.
30,000 pennies fill 6 gallons and 1 quart.

Now how did I find out that 300 pennies are 1 cup? I first multiplied 1/3 cup times 3; then I multiplied 100 times 3. How did I find out that 3,000 pennies are 5 pints? I multiplied 300 by 10 because that equals 3,000, and I multiplied 1 by 10, then I converted 10 cups into 5 pints.

Now what helps me with knowing how many pennies fill how many pints? I can't count 30,000 pennies, but I can imagine 6 gallons and 1 quart pennies. Instead of counting really big numbers, measure them! Measuring is faster than counting.

Really big numbers are fun. A big number is easy to count to, but a really big number is much harder to count to. I learned that really big numbers are easier to measure than to count to. Maybe I will collect a really big number of bottle caps. Then I won't be able to count them, so I will measure them.

* Second Place:

"REALLY BIG NUMBERS -What is a Million?"
by Niki Loo
age 8, grade 4, Cottonwood Elementary School, Carol Hawkins' class
Lake Elsinore, California, U.S.

What is a million? A lot of people talk about millions. I know there are about 10 million people in Los Angeles. There are about 2 million people in Riverside where I live. There are about 72 million pet cats in the USA. I have never seen a million before. I went to see Billy Gramm speak and there were about 60,000 people there. I also saw Mark McGuire play baseball in San Diego and there were about 40,000 people there.

How large is a million dollars? That is what everyone is asking even little kids like me. Most people just spend spend on little gadgets. I learned that the largest United States bill in circulation is the one hundred dollar bill and it takes 1000 of those to make one million dollars. A pile of one million in $100 bills fills up about 643 cubic inches (8" x 6"x 13") and was about the size of a 15 inch television set. It weighs almost 20 pounds (9 kilos). The stack of bills and it was 40 inches high (one meter). That is how much one million dollars is. I guess a million dollars in one dollar bills would be 100 meters high.

* Third Place:

"Billions of Mice"
by Travis King
age 12, grade 8, homeschooled, Westmoreland, Tennessee, U.S.

      "I just don't understand big numbers!" cried Mimi the cat to her friend, TJ.
      "Why not?"
      "They're so... so... BIG!" she started crying. "I don't understand how many a billion is or a million or even a thousand! I know a million is a thousand thousands, and that a billion is a thousand millions, and that a thousand is a thousand ones, but how could I ever count so many numbers?"
      "How about counting mice instead?" suggested TJ. Mice were Mimi's favorite snacks.
      "Mice, numbers, it doesn't matter. It's still counting."
      "Let's say you had some mice that were 3 and a half inches long. It's 238,897 miles from the center of the earth to the center of the moon, so let's dig a pretend hole to the center of the earth here, and dig a hole to the center of the moon. start stacking mice!" he said, "it would take 4,324,718,263 mice to stack them from the center of the earth to the center of the moon!"
      "Wow! So many mice? How can you count that?"
      "You calculate the number of inches in a mile (5,280 feet divided by 12 inches) to get 63,360 and multiply it by 238,897 miles and then divide it by 3.5."
      "I can really see mice stacked to the moon! Sort of..." said Mimi.
      The next day TJ saw Mimi's brother Gary at the mouse store.
      "What do you mean you don't have 4,324,718,263 mice?"

* Prizes

The first place prize is a Math Cats T-shirt. The first through third place entries receive large Math Cats certificates.

* We're helping a special friend of Math Cats, too!

Wendy of Math Cats is making a donation to the IFOPA in honor of the overall winner and in honor of Jasmin Floyd, a young friend of Math Cats. You can learn about this worthy cause on the main contest page.

back to the main contest page

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