Monday, November 23, 2015

It’s all relative (sizing)

How big is Earth or the Solar System or the Milky Way galaxy?
How old is our planet and when did the first animals and people appear on it?
Some things are so huge or so old that it’s hard to wrap your mind around them. But what if we took these big, hard-to-imagine objects and events and compared them to things we can see, feel and touch? Instantly, we’d see our world in a whole new way.

This is the start of the introduction to If…a mind-bending new way oflooking at big ideas and numbers written by David J. Smith.  (Just a note: David J. Smith wrote If the world were a village which I adore for a lot of the same reasons I love If.)

And Smith has been stunningly clever in presenting objects and events in a highly engaging way, holding our attention and allowing us to make new connections to the natural and human world.  All those concepts that can seem too big to really get a grasp on (example: the whole 4.5 billion year history of our planet condensed into a 2 hour DVD, humans only show up for the last two seconds.  Whoa, Nelly! That puts us in our place, I’d say) become much more comprehensible.

As he did in If the world was a village, he reduces really big numbers in ways that we understand more easily.  We know exactly how long a two hour DVD is.  We know what a year feels like or an hour.  Or what 12 inches looks like or an average sized drinking glass. An on it goes.

Part of what is fascinating are the subjects that the author has focused on such as the vastness of the universe, evolution and physical attributes of the planet such as land mass and quantity of water.

Also, the appearance of humans, our activities and things that impact our quality of life are well represented here.  For example, significant events are compressed into one calendar month (31 days) and include happenings such as when Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus were born, when paper is invented in China and when enslaved Africans first come to the Americas.  On the last day of this month he includes the discovery of water on Mars in 2013.

Another example that really speaks to a current social issue is the distribution of wealth around the world.  This is illustrated with just 100 coins stacked into piles.  Here are a few of the facts: the richest 1% have 40 coins; 9% would have 45 coins; 40% would have 14 coins; and finally, 50% of the world’s population would have one coin among them to share.  Talk about keeping it real.

The last example, I’ll share is the one about our everyday lives and what we do with our time.  Based on the size of a jumbo pizza cut into 12 pieces 4 slices represents the time we spend at school or work; 4 slices represent time getting ready for bed and sleeping; 1 slice denotes time spent traveling between places including holidays; 1 slice shows how much time we spend shopping, doing household chores including caring for others; 1 slice relates to eating and preparing our food and lastly, 1 slice represents time spent on the fun stuff.
The illustrations by Steve Adams are bright, bold and clear at representing time, space, and quantities.

I would highly recommend this book for math, science and social studies classes for grades 3 to 7 and even higher.  The universe, the earth and our lives all become much more coherent when looked at through the lens of relative size.


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