This week is National Library Week, and to get the kids thinking about their library I asked them to do two things: color a ‘I love the library because’ sheet and guess how many books are in the school library.

The guesses are hugely varied: from 2 to 2,001,00! That got me to thinking about our perceptions of large numbers, and a book that can help with it.

David A. Adler’s book Millions, Billions, & Trillions Understanding Big Numbers is a great tool to help you work with kids. My favorite example is how to picture a million:

The print is small in the picture so I’ll type it out for you:

Get a bag of granulated sugar, a measuring cup with a 1/4 mark on it, and a piece of dark construction paper. Fill the cup to the 1/4 mark. Then carefully spill the sugar from the cup onto the construction paper. You couldn’t easily count each granule of sugar on the paper. You are looking at about one million granules of sugar.

The book gives a lot of great visual examples for kids (and adults.) 

Another great book dealing with numbers is That’s a Possibility by Bruce Goldstone.


This book clearly explains probable, improbable, and impossible. It also explains what ‘the odds of’ means.

I suppose I could tell you the answer to my question. How many books are in Mrs. O’s library? 15,159 assuming the inventory was all correct. The student who was closest  guessed 18,000. The next closest was somewhere around 11,400. I have a winner for each level (k-4) and then a grand prize winner. It was a fun contest to hold.

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