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Q&A #4319

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Estimation: Order of Magnitude, Compensation

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From: Loyd

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2001110217:51:16
Subject: Re: Order of Magnitude

Order of magnitude refers to powers of ten. Thus, 10 is an order of magnitude larger than 1. 1000 is three orders of magnitude larger than 1. Just suppose that that someone said that the diameter of the universe is 10^79 centimeters across and it was discovered that they were wrong and that the actual diameter was 10^80 centimeters across. The first estimate would be one order of magnitude too small (of course, I don't know the diameter of the universe). Order of magnitude is useful in astronomy, physics, chemistry and engineering. I am not sure it isn't premature to teach fifth graders this topic except for very bright kids. I didn't learn what it meant until I was out of college, working in a place with lots of engineers. There it was a slight put-down if you were an engineer and didn't know what that meant.

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