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Understanding Scientific Notation

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 9/11/2012

Explain scientific notation using this lesson plan and included scientific notation worksheet and scientific notation study guide!

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    What is Scientific Notation?

    Teachers use this science lesson plan to introduce your students to methods of scientific notation. Start by reading the following information to your students.

    Science often deals in numbers that are extremely large and those that are extremely small. For the sake of simplicity, these numbers are frequently expressed using the powers-of-ten or scientific notation. As you know, numbers that are expressed in various ways often mean the same thing. For example, the fraction 1/2 can also be written as 0.5, but means the same thing. This is the same idea that scientific notation is based on. Scientific notation is very useful when performing calculations, rounding significant figures and to simply express a number in a simplified format. Though scientific notation can look confusing, it's actually very simple and limits the amount of writing required when working with extremely large or extremely small amounts.

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    Rules and Examples of Scientific Notation

    Teachers, explain the following rules of scientific notation and describe the included examples to your students before completing the board work included with this lesson plan. Students will need to understand these rules and examples before completing the scientific notation worksheet included with this lesson plan.

    1. The exponent, or power of 10, is increased by one for every place the decimal point is shifted to the left.
    2. The exponent, or power of 10, is decreased by one for every place the decimal point is shifted to the right.

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    Scientific Notation Board Work

    List the following scientific notation problems on the board. Ask students to solve the problem by answering the question or converting the written numbers to scientific notation.

    1. If the decimal point is moving to the left, is the power of ten negative or positive?
    2. if the decimal point is moving to the right, is the power of ten negative or positive?
    3. Convert 246 to scientific notation.
    4. Convert 102,000 to scientific notation.
    5. Convert .002 to scientific notation.
    6. Convert .00000001 to scientific notation.

    Once students complete the lesson plan, they should be able to understand how to use scientific notation. However, as a reinforcement to what they have learned or if students need help in understanding scientific notation, refer them to the scientific notation study guide included with this scientific notation lesson plan.