Monday, May 31, 2010

Trillion Dollar Daze

Last weekend the United States' military passed the one trillion dollar mark in spending on the wars in Iraq and Afganistan. There seemed to be little mention of this in the news; a cursory search on Google revealed few hits from the mainstream media outlets. I did find this piece in the Huffington Post about it, though.

I became aware of the passing of this sad milestone when a student of mine sent along this great graphic created on Google Sketchup showing a visual representation of what a trillion dollars looks like: You'll have to click through to see a trillion, but this is a billion dollars, in stacks of hundred dollar bills stacked on pallets.

The story and the graphic got me wondering what we could do with this in a math class:

  • Ask students to come up with their own ways to visually represent how large a trillion dollars is in some kind of way that makes sense to a viewer.
  • How much does a trillion dollars worth of hundred dollar bills weigh? How much would a trillion dollars worth of pennies weigh?
  • Research the cost of other wars and the rate of inflation and compare the cost of other wars to the cost of the Iraq/Afganistan war.
  • What else ???


  1. Well, this might be getting too politically-charged, but:

    What else (in terms of federal spending) could $1,000,000,000,000 buy?

    I wanted to send you a word of encouragement: you've had some great posts so far, and I look forward to reading & using some of these current events in my math classes!

  2. Kevin, I too have recently started blogging at The Teaching Cipher. Came over here after your post on Sam Shah.

    Regarding this problem, I would probably strip it right back. Just ask "How much money is here?". Let it develop. Take guesses, put them on the board, say nothing about them.

    Then possibly just leave it. Go to start something else. They'll soon start asking who was right - so we investigate. What do we need to know? Type of note/bill? Height of stack? Width of stack? Thickness of a bill etc...

    Lead it with a powerpoint towards the trillion dollar answer. Even then, what if they were 10dollar bills? 50s? What if...