How big is a million?


I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted my pupils to learn from this lesson. Maybe nothing more than a feeling of awe at creating something as big as a million. I certainly didn’t expect it to take off the way it did!

I began by giving each table a set of Dienes apparatus. I then read the story ‘How big is a million?’ At each point of the story I stopped and directed them to the relevant apparatus so that they could see how the numbers were growing.

When I finished the story, I asked them to discuss how the numbers grew. I was looking for discussion about how they became ten times bigger each time. Then I asked them if they could use the apparatus on the tables to work out how big a million cubes would be.

Discussing how big a million cubes might be.

 One or two groups needed a bit of direction but most of them were able to see the link between the way the numbers grew and were able to work out that it would be a cube that was 1m square. There was lots of enthusiasm and discussion involving picking up the apparatus to make the point. I was really pleased by how involved they all were.

My TA had scoured the school for metre sticks and I then got the children to help me build the cube net. There was a definite gasp when it was finished. Space for a million cubes!

Our finished One million cube net.

 The children then wanted to know how many cm cubes would fit into our classroom. I asked how we could work it out and some of them worked out that we needed to measure the length, width and height and that would give us the volume of cubes.

Quick work with yet another metre stick and a calculator gave us a total of 106 million cubes. Another Wow moment.

It was then time for assembly. A group of my boys got told off for talking before the assembly started when they should have been quiet. I didn’t have the heart to be cross though as they were estimating the measurements and trying to work out how many million cubes would fit into the hall. I have been promised that they will do it on Monday!


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