Scientific Notation: Like Twitter for Very Large or Small Values

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Students will be able to define scientific and standard notation and convert numbers between scientific and standard notation in order to explain the purpose of scientific notation.

Big Idea

It is important to know how to use scientific notation in order to properly express values and measurements in the biotechnology laboratory.


5 minutes

Scientific Notation is a powerful tool used by every biotechnologist. It is important to know how to use scientific notation in order to properly express values such as data and measurements in the biotechnology laboratory.


Students will discuss the purpose of scientific notation, perform mathematical functions using scientific notation, and finally convert values from standard notation to scientific notation.


BT.12.4 - Express appropriate numbers of significant figures for calculated data, using scientific notation where appropriate.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) - Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Use mathematical models and/or computer simulations to predict the effects of a design solution on systems and/or the interactions between systems. (HS-ETS1-4).


15 minutes

Engage (Activate Student Thinking)

Space/size/length and accuracy matter in social media. Twitter's character limit is 140. An SMS text message limit is 160. Google AdSense ads can have 25 characters for the title, 70 characters for the ad text, and 35 characters for the displayed URL. A space or punctuation is a "character" and you better know the appropriate abbreviations or your may end up thinking “LOL” means “lots of love” like I did! Standardizing language for easy understanding is beneficial however it can be just as tricky as converting very large or small numbers from standardized notation into scientific notation. Let’s see how….

1. Based on the goal, objective and standard of today’s lesson, in 140 characters or less, compose a tweet about today’s topic.

2. Now would it have been easier if I had requested that you fix the tweet below that I was trying to send to all students last night:

“Welcome Back Advanced Biotechnology Scholars also known as My Boobooliciouses”! 2015 is most certainly your year and you will shine. As you plan to return to school tomorrow, remember it is a B-Day therefore I will be available to help with the completion of your professional portfolios afterschool!  I missed you and can’t wait to see you all!”

3. Easier? Why or why not? (Students oftentimes answer,  "Yes, it would have been easier because we have accepted conversational abbreviations and standardized language to ensure the proper receipt of your message when texting in our everyday lives. Academic and professional language is not as prevelant so tweeting about today's topic should have been more difficult. Although, if we create standardized Twitter language for academic and professional terms it would become easier.")

4. Ask volunteers to share the words that were changed in order to shorten the message and chart the original terms along with the "Twitter" translations.


15 minutes

Explore (Guided/Student-Centered Activity)

In this portion of our lesson, students will be able to justify that we also use a standardized language in biotechnology!! Let’s take a look at why tweets are nothing but scientific notation with words instead of numbers!!

1. View the video “Math Shorts Episode 7 - Scientific Notation”(Time: 3:12min).

2. Complete the Scientific Notation Pretest problems provided.

3. Check for understanding based on student performance on the pretest and regroup students as needed. Students who possess sufficient prior knowledge can proceed to the EXPLAIN portion of the lesson and become "certified" in the use of scientific notation. By the end of the EXPLAIN portion of the lesson, students should be able to provide three reasons which explain:

How tweets are like values written using scientific notation?

4. Students who may have struggled with this concept can receive additional direct instruction and support as they complete the following activity.


25 minutes

Explain (Formulate Ideas)

Complete the NCCC BioNetwork Course Certification, “Scientific Notation”. This course will enable students to experience a method used by biotechnologist when working with either very large or very small numbers in our measurements and equations. This digital course may take 20-25 minutes to complete. Students may proceed through the course and assessment at their own pace using the notetaker provided to capture their responses as they move through the course.


20 minutes

Elaborate (Apply and Extend Understanding)

Using the BioNetwork “Scientific Notation” course guide as a resources complete the Independent Practice Problems provided.  Identify the rules that you used when converting to and from standard notation as well as when adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying values written using scientific notation. Clearly knowing the rules for this new standardized language will make working with these values a breeze.

NOTE: This may also be a great time to review or reintroduce the rules that govern Significant Figures or Digits and how they correlate with the use of scientific notation!


20 minutes

Evaluate (Monitor Understanding)

As we prepare to end the lesson I display a hidden feature that spreadsheets possess that a computer science teacher revealed to me. I open the Microsoft Excel program (I believe this could work with any spreadsheet) and enter the distance to the sun as 92,960,000 miles or 149,600,000 km omitting the commas and units into a cell. Have students observe what happens when you shrink the width of the column of the cell. The values changes. Or does it? Have students explain what has occurred and how spreadsheets are programmed to deal with very large or very small numbers.

So does the use of scientific notation live up to its promise of making very small or very large numbers easier to compare, compute and conceive?

Take a look at the following video and conduct a brief whole group discussion on the actual use of scientific notation in the real world. What are the limitations and challenges of using scientific notation? What must students know in order to make its use helpful? What are the advantages and benefits? You and your students can be the judge!

Just How Small is an Atom? (Time: 5:28min) – Jonathan Bergmann OR