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Powers of Ten ala October 10

Powers of Ten. You might have heard of explorations of this important mathematical idea (i.e. "the relative size of things in the Universe and the effect of adding another zero"), either via a short movie or a book. Now, thanks to the internet, you have an abundance of resources at your fingertips.

The popularization of "Powers of Ten" is linked to a 9-minute movie by that same name, produced by Charles and Ray Eames in 1977. I remember showing that film every year to my math classes, both in middle school and in high school. I also, shared information with them from the accompanying book by Philip and Phylis Morrison on Powers of Ten (1982). You can still find the book on ebay or at used bookstores (e.g. Amazon even sells the video).

But, the Internet makes all of the visual information you might want about Powers of Ten..easily accessible to you and your students:

  • The original film Powers of Ten
  • A Powers of Ten website by the Eames office...and the sponsors of Powers of Ten Day on October 10, complete with some great posters and activities
  • Interactive Java tutorial on Powers of Ten, based on ideas of Dutch engineer and educator Kees Boeke, who first utilized powers to aid in visualization of large numbers in a 1957 publication entitled Cosmic View, the Universe in 40 Jumps
  • Website A Question of Scale is a less dynamic option, but still a good exploration tool of Powers of Ten
  • Another website Powers of Ten is a good effort, but not as good as the others
Once you have explored these options...and possibly used them with students, you might want to peruse a review of the original film and its offshoots...especially in terms of scientific errors, additional resources, and some "pop culture" trivia.