Scientific Notation - What to Do with Big and Small Numbers

Contributor: Briana Pincherri. Lesson ID: 11260

How would you write out the number "bazillion"? If there were such a number, it would need lots of zeros! Learn how to write out great big and little tiny numbers through a video and online practice!


Expressions and Equations, Pre-Algebra

learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • What do you do with SUPER long numbers?
  • Do you allow yourself to get a hand cramp and just write the whole thing?

If you answered "Yes," I have got some wonderful news for you! You can write very long numbers in a much shorter form using something called scientific notation.

Completing this lesson will show you just that!

Grab a piece of paper and pencil.

Take a minute and write the LONGEST number you can think of. (Okay, maybe not the longest because that could keep going and going, but jot down at least 15 digits!)

  • Got it?

Okay, great.

  • Now, would you like to re-write that number over and over and over again?

No way! Not only would you get a hand cramp, you'd be so tired of writing numbers that you'd never want to do math again.

  • What if I asked you to multiply, or divide, or even just add that 15-digit number?
  • Well, guess what?

Most people aren't comfortable with numbers that big, and most calculators can't even hold a number that long!

  • So, what should you do?

It just so happens that something called scientific notation was created for really large (long!) numbers and really small (long decimal!) numbers. Let's take a look.

Start by watching this video by Tyler Dewitt called Scientific Notation: Introduction:

Numbers can take different forms.

Standard form: That is the number itself, fully expanded (ex. 1,200,000,000).

Scientific Notation: That is shown as a decimal number (with just 1 digit in front of the decimal place) times 10 to some power (ex. 1.2 x 109), as seen in the video.

While those examples from the video are fresh in your mind, let's move on to some practice in the Got It? section.

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