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Associate professor highlights screen-free ways to teach kids about scale

June 14, 2021

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Size comparison videos featuring a range of topics, such as space, animals, buildings, and even fictional starships are widespread on YouTube, with some amassing millions of views.

When developing mentally between the ages of 5 to 7, many children enjoy watching animated shorts that use special effects to show the scale of things. These videos not only feature sorting tasks—typically showing objects from smallest to largest—but they also demonstrate how objects relate to one another.

While size comparison videos are fun to watch, many of them are made by animators rather than scientists or educators and are not checked for accuracy. In a New York Times article, associate professor David Jackson provides a few alternative ways to teach kids about scale without the use of screens.

For example, by placing major events in geologic history along a 131-foot hallway, middle school educators can demonstrate a geologic time scale of the history of Earth, dating back four billion years.

“Students are always surprised to see how recently modern humans emerged,” said Jackson, who teaches in the department of mathematics, science and social studies education. “A mere one-eighth of an inch from present-day. That’s a peppercorn’s length from the finish line.”

Using everyday objects to represent scale is memorable for all kids, he added. For example, if Earth was the size of a standard globe, the moon would be a softball and Jupiter would fill the average bedroom.

Read the full article