Scientific Notation

Think back to your days in geometry. Do you remember the two-column proofs and the joy that would come with writing "by definition" as the reason to support a statement? There are just some things in mathematics that exist by declaration. By definition, the square root of negative one is represented with i. Why? Because the Italian mathematician Rafael Bombelli said so.

There is no "But why?" behind scientific notation either. It is a definition created to ease the cumbersome nature of incredibly large or microscopically small numbers. Scientific notation is a method of writing a number as a decimal multiplied by a power of ten. The definition restricts the decimal to a number greater than or equal to 1 and less than 10. It's still the same number...just written in a specified format.

Have you used place value and powers of ten to rewrite numbers according to the scientific notation format? Base ten blocks can model the decomposition of a number and serve as a beneficial launching pad for writing large numbers in scientific notation.

Scientific Notation with Base Ten Blocks

Once students grasp the definition, continue with the "Sort This!" activity to rewrite numbers from different forms including standard notation, product or quotient form, as a power of ten, or scientific notation. The "I have... Who has..." activity provides a quick informal assessment of converting numbers. Also the "RallyCoach" and "Stations" activities require students to solve problems involving numbers written in scientific notation.

Scientific Notation Resources

This activity set highlights Common Core State Standards 8.EE.A.3 and 8.EE.A.4 included in MATH-8 and Accelerated MATH-7.

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