How many zeros?

A conversation in the Maths department this week about how to extend a particularly strong Year 7 student whilst teaching multiplying and dividing by 10, 100, 1000 led to this idea:

If you multiply all the numbers from 1 to 100 how many zeros are at the end?

I like this question.  It’s actually really quite hard. Have a go. I had previously used is as, “How many zeros are the end of 100! ?” But phrasing it this way gets around the need to explain factorial notation in the middle of a lesson that is not about factorial notation and therefore is can be used as an extension challenge.  Another less challenging, but similar(ish) question:

How many numbers with repeated digits (e.g. 55, 101, 155) are there between 1 and 201?

It is sometimes hard when teaching “basic” topics like decimal place value to find suitable challenge.

Before thinking about finding hard questions, I think it’s worth putting ourselves in the shoes of some of our higher attaining Year 7s and their experience of our mixed attainment classes in the first few months of secondary school.

Primary school experiences vary a lot. Many are taught in sets, especially in larger 2 and 3 form entry schools which are common in London.  My hunch is that the propensity to set children for Maths increases the closer they get to Year 6 although I don’t have any data to back that up (if you know of such data, please share!)  Most of the primaries that I am working with this year that are implementing mastery approaches and so are moving away from setting to mixed attainment teaching, but starting in the lower years.

In many cases, children who felt they were “good at maths” in Primary, developed that self-perception by completing calculations and getting correct answers. After all, that’s what maths is, right?  In some cases they will have established rules in their own minds schemas, etc. An example might be “to multiply by 10, simply add a zero on the end”. And, of course, for integers this works.  Which is why it is so important to highlight misconceptions e.g. 3.4 x 10 = 3.40 as soon as possible before these “false friends” become established.  This is why Year 7 can be such a challenging year for pupils and their teachers.  There is often a need to undo and deconstruct some false ideas that have become well-established before building back up the correct concepts.

So, back to the problem.  Maybe it’s worth saying that there are 24 zeros at the end of that huge number.  That’s the answer.  But as we all know, the answer is just the beginning.

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