Math = Love: Scientific Notation Practice Activities

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Scientific Notation Practice Activities

I want to create a post to hold all of the scientific notation practice activities I used with my students this year.  I already blogged about the scientific notation ordering cards I made here.  This was a great way to see how well my students could transition between the different representations.  It also helped me see if they understood how to tell if a number was smaller or bigger than another number.  

I also blogged about my scientific notation interactive notebook pages here.  

I found a scientific notation square puzzle (also known as a tarsia puzzle) online.  I printed these out on different colors of paper and laminated them.  The different colors of paper strategy is a trick I learned this summer at the OCTM conference.  One of the speakers said that she prints activities on different colors so that pieces that land on the floor are easy to return to the set they belong to.  

Students get a plastic bag with 16 squares in it.  They must convert numbers to or from scientific notation to match the edges of the pieces up.  When finished, the puzzle will form a 4 x 4 square.  

Here's what the finished puzzle will look like:

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Some of my students had a hard time wrapping their minds around how to put the puzzle pieces together.  They didn't seem to grasp that each edge had to match up correctly.  Eventually, with a little help, they got off to a better start.  

My students loved using their individual dry erase boards to work out their problems for this puzzle.  The copy machine at school insists on printing a black line down each and every page it prints.  This means that the puzzle pieces had a black line running through four of them.  This made me sad since I'm such a perfectionist.  But, it did make it really easy to check my students' solutions!  When I mentioned the line to them, they said they didn't even notice.  

Probably my favorite activity was this Scientifico game.  I found it online here.  (FYI - the same site has a set of scientific notation dominoes, but I didn't end up using them.  I think I would use them in the future and make these various activities into stations!)  

To play this game, you'll need game boards for each pair of students, three dice for each pair of students, and a recording sheet for each student.

I recommend laminating these game boards for durability.  Of course, I laminate almost everything.  I have a Scotch brand laminator at school and a Swingline brand laminator at home.  There's just something about laminating an activity that makes it seem more professional.  Plus, it means that I can reuse it year after year without having to recreate it again and again.  

You'll also need a way to mark which student earned which square.  I used bingo chips for this, but you could also have students mark their initials on the game board.  (I laminated my game boards for durability so you could use dry erase markers if you go that route.  You could also just print the game boards on paper and make them disposable.)  

A couple of years ago, my school asked what supplies I would like to have in my classroom.  One of the first things I asked for was a huge bag of bingo chips (affiliate link).  We use these for so many different activities.  To make them easy to distribute to students, I split them into 6 small bowls that I bought at Dollar Tree for 3 or 4 for a dollar!  

Here's what the game board looks like:

If you look closely, you'll see that it's actually two game boards in one.

The first game board features scientific notation with positive exponents.

The second game board features scientific notation with negative exponents.

I had my students play a round on the positive game board first.  Then, when they finished they played a round on the negative game board.  They found playing on the negative game board MUCH harder because they weren't sure which spot to claim after creating their number.

Each student will keep track of each of their numbers in scientific notation and standard notation on their scoring sheet.

When it's your turn, you roll 3 standard six-sided dice (affiliate link).  If you don't have a box of dice in your room to make activities out of, you're definitely missing out.  You can pick up 100 dice on Amazon (affiliate link) for fairly cheap.  I had my school buy me a set of 500 dice a couple of years ago, and they've definitely been used over and over and over.

The three numbers that are produced on the dice are your building blocks for creating your number.  Here are the different numbers you could create by rolling a 6, 3, and 1.

If you chose 6.3 x 10^1, you would be able to place a bingo chip on the between 51 and 100 square.

The instructions I found online weren't the clearest, so I just interpreted them in a way that made sense to me.

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I decided to have each pair of students play on the SAME game board using different colors of bingo chips.  You could have each student play on their own game board, but it wouldn't be quite as competitive.  You know how well your students handle competitive activities.

I also decided that a student would win if they got three of their markers in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.  So, here are examples of different ways to win:

After each move, students should record the number they created in both scientific notation and standard form.  I had my students turn these into me so I could look through them for common mistakes to discuss in class.

Here are some pics of my students in action with this game:

I would definitely recommend all of these activities!  


  1. Games are such a great way to engage students. I don’t do enough of this. Being a high school math teacher, there just seems to be an overwhelming amount of material with so little time, especially when days are taken for assemblies, testing, etc. Thanks for reminding me that I just need to take the time because in the end, it will be well worth the effort and time. Students will learn and gain confidence while having fun.

    I have used games that are similar to some of the ones you have posted here. Currently, my Math 2 students are having difficulty with multiplying binomials. You have reminded me that I can use a puzzle like the one you pictured here (that I have in a book somewhere) that will help them. Your ideas here also made me think that I could make a deck of cards with this same idea where they play Concentration (match the pairs—problem (x – 2)(x + 3) with its answer (x2 + x – 6) in groups of 3 or 4.

    Thanks for the inspiration and great ideas.---Donna

  2. I think the best part about this post is the amount of activities you describe. Because in the end, the materials you have available may change your mind on what activity to pursue but you are still covering relatively similar content. I can also see how these activities may also allow students to elaborate on exponents in general. But also these forms of games and activities can be related and used to help students understand other mathematical content other than scientific notation. These are all fun and engaging ways to discuss mathematics, which is great because engagement can really be the key to learning mathematics.