Estimating six million

'How long would it take you to count six million?' 

Big numbers present us with a real challenge! How do we understand their size and the significance of what they represent? Once numbers get past a certain size this gets harder and harder. One, two, three, .....big! There are numerous instances of billions and millions being incorrectly used in journalism and nobody even notices because they are just seen as big numbers. How far is a light year? How big is the national debt of the coutry you live in? How much money are 'apple' worth? In this activity the aim is to give some meaning to a big number by working out the length of time it would take to count to it. The task involves calculating a considered estimate of how long it would take you to count up to six million. Take not that it says calculate and considered. This is quite diferent from guessing. the task has real value when you consider what is really required to make such an estimate! 

Why six million

VERY IMPORTANT - It is important that this task is attempted by students before they read this section or watch the video example.


This task really doesn't need much in the way of resources. In its best form, students are simply given the question and challenged to make necessary considerations. The teacher can then prompt students with ideas and things to check as and when the think it is appropriate. Alternatively, the task can be presented as it is in this  Estimating six million activity sheet which is also embedded below. I have made a video - see above - that shows one possible estimate and how it was put together. This should only be watched after everyone has had a go themselves


This description of the activity mainly targets teachers. However, it is carefully worded so as not to give anything key away that may diminsh the interest or excitement of the activity for the students.

  • Students are presented with the question and the task
  • Students are left to make considerations on their own
  • Teachers can offer prompts as they see fit or hand out the activity sheet included above.
  • Groups or individuals take tuns to justify their estimations and compare answers with each other.
  • The class might try to make a compromise estimate.
  • The teacher then shows the video example to the class as part of explaining why the number six million was used.
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