Posted by: jwhiff | October 8, 2016

Learning Large Numbers Part 2: Human Cities

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-8-26-08-amWe began this phase of the project by sorting population numbers from the various members of Metro Vancouver.  These are less interesting than animal numbers, but they are a handy point of comparison that the kids felt they could visualize because they live here.  12,000 cheetahs in the whole world doesn’t seem like so many when there are 34,000 people living in the city of Port Moody.  Port Moody doesn’t even seem all that big!

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-8-26-28-amNext comes searching for the most populated cities in the world.  The kids brainstormed ideas for the largest cities they thought exist.  Then I took them into the lab and they looked them up.  By the way, it is difficult to get a straight answer for a population of a city.  This ended up becoming another critical thinking task.  Why do different websites have different populations for the same city (in the same year)?  Why are some website’s top ten most populated city lists quite different from others?

The kids are blown away (as am I) by the size of some of these cities, by the way.  Some students become a little demoralized by the whole thing, especially when you start exploring car, pollution and sewage numbers.  We listened to podcasts (, watched a depressing Youtube video ( and found data on the number of cars out there.  My job is not to demoralize children, however.  They need hope, right?

So this is where we started looking at density as a solution for preserving habitat.  This is actually quite fun.

First, I taught them how to estimate the population of a high-rise.  Well, I actually didn’t teach them at the start.  I threw them into a small problem task first.  Here it is: apartment-problem

This was quite tough, actually.  I realized they needed some more practice with this, so I had them take a hundred square and, using washable marker, map out a series of apartments that could comfortably fit rice “people” (pieces of rice).  This hundred square becomes a standard floor in a high-rise.

d531eea0c68b11e38ee85161e8abc65b-rotated-57ec5b48c408fb1f42aaf927-pxgg4_28-09-2016-05-07-35Then they worked together to create apartment buildings by stacking hundreds and thousands blocks together to create high-rises.  They placed their standard floor design on the top and put the rice people into the apartments.  The assumption here is that every floor of the high-rise is a duplicate of their standard floor plan.  That way, they simply need to figure out the number of floors and multiply it by the number of rice people living on each floor.  They moved around the classroom and figured out the population of each model high-rise.  They then figured out the population of the whole city.

Next comes designing a green city.  In our neck of the woods, developers have purchased an old town site known as Ioco and plan on creating a high density community there.  The property includes much local forest.  The problem I posed to the kids is, how would you develop this land for as many people possible with the least amount of damage to the forest?

Over 3 blocks (of 1 hour each), the kids worked together in groups to create model cities:

d531eea0c68b11e38ee85161e8abc65b-rotated-57f4546ff39af46eafda1a75-rdtw8_04-10-2016-06-16-30d531eea0c68b11e38ee85161e8abc65b-rotated-57f454b4b3090246eca2c947-pdqls_04-10-2016-06-17-39d531eea0c68b11e38ee85161e8abc65b-rotated-57f453f9f39af46eafda1a44-cer81_04-10-2016-06-14-33d531eea0c68b11e38ee85161e8abc65b-rotated-57f4541cc0e14a46f56f99a3-spkp4_04-10-2016-06-15-07Note the animal over passes, green roofs and bean cars on the roads, by the way 🙂  My advice: don’t go for pretty.  They need to get back to the math ASAP.  Plus, the quicker the project, the more fun it is.

Right now, we are on the population estimating phase.  I printed photos of their cities and they are labelling and calculating building population estimates.

Next comes this nice little problem: city-of-lougheed-pdf.  It is based on another development planned on the border of Burnaby and Coquitlam.

Followed by a map-making exercise:  ioco-photo

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