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Scientific Notation Ordering Cards Activity

Today, I want to share a set of scientific notation ordering cards I created to use as a sort of formative assessment to see what previous knowledge my students had about scientific notation and how they were progressing as we moved through our different notes and activities.

I did not come up with the numbers on these cards.  The numbers were taken from a lesson plan posted online by the Ohio Department of Education.  The link I have for them is now broken.  I really liked how there were three sets of numbers to order that were divided into three different levels: dirt road, paved road, and highway.

scientific notation ordering cards activity math
Image Source:Ohio Department of Education (Original Link Now Broken)

I decided to take these numbers and print them two to a page so they could be easily seen across the room.  I printed them on three different colors of paper so that I could tell the levels apart.  

The last thing I did to these ordering cards was to laminate them.  Over my years of teaching, I’ve learned that teenagers can be quite destructive with the things you put in their hands.  So, if you want things to last for years to come without having to recreate them, laminating is definitely the best choice!


drawing of laminator machine with text "laminating recommendations"

A laminator is a MUST-HAVE for me as a math teacher! I spent my first six years as a teacher at a school with a broken laminator, so I had to find a way to laminate things myself.

I’ve had several laminators over the years. I currently use a Scotch laminator at home and a Swingline laminator at school.

I highly recommend splurging a bit on the actual laminator and buying the cheapest laminating pouches you can find!

Another perk of laminating is that my students were able to write on the cards with dry erase markers.  They were easily erasable with a dry erase eraser.  If you find it hard to get dry erase marker off of laminated paper, just a spritz of cleaning spray will make them clean up nicely.  We were able to erase these with no problem, though.

I have one student who is not in my normal class period.  He needs an extra science credit, so he comes in during my planning period and completes the tasks that my physical science class did earlier in the day.  Here is him at work with the scientific notation ordering cards:

scientific notation ordering cards activity math

If you look closely, you can see where he has written on them with the dry erase marker and changed each number out of scientific notation.

Here’s another one of the decks of cards being ordered.  This was the hardest level of cards.

scientific notation ordering cards activity math

To kick off scientific notation, we took notes on why scientists use scientific notation and what scientific notation looks like.  I blogged about these notes in more detail here.

After taking these notes, I asked my class for 8 volunteers.  I gave them the first level of sorting cards and had them stand at the front of the room.  They had to figure out how to sort themselves properly.  I did this just to give myself a general idea of where my students stood with prior knowledge of scientific notation.  Here in Oklahoma, scientific notation is a middle school math standard, so I’ve never had to teach it in my math classes before.  So, it SHOULD be a review for my physical science students who are either 9th or 10th graders.  Watching them struggle to order themselves confirmed that this was a worthwhile skill to be practicing.

Next, we took some notes on how to convert between forms.

After taking these notes, I asked for a different set of volunteers to sort the next set of 8 cards.  This went much smoother, but I could still tell a few students were doing almost all of the heavy lifting for the group.

On the next day, we started out by sorting our third set of cards.  They really struggled with this, and I could tell they were getting frustrated.  So, we took a break and did some practice converting and ranking numbers in our notes.

So, what would I do differently?

I thought that having students line up at the front of the room would create some great classroom conversation about how things should be ordered.  It didn’t.  🙁  A few students ended up doing most of the work while the rest of the class set mostly unengaged.  So, I guess you could say this activity provided great formative assessment of where my students were, but it didn’t provide great practice for them.

In the future, I would print multiple sets of cards and have students order the cards in groups of probably 3 or 4.  When they were satisfied with their ordering, I would come over and check their work.  If it was correct, they would move on to the next level of cards.  If it was incorrect, they would keep working at that level.

I am realizing very quickly that I have a few students who are much stronger than the rest of my physical science students.  I need to find a way to keep these students challenged without allowing them to dominate the activities we are completing.

All in all, I think this was a worthwhile activity.  I love that with this job my learning never ends.  I’m continually learning how to present lessons in a way that better suits my students’ needs.

Chad Richard

Thursday 30th of September 2021

Thanks for making these cards available and download-able... really appreciate it.

Sarah Carter

Tuesday 5th of October 2021

So glad you found them useful!


Monday 9th of January 2017

Hi Sarah! How many days/class periods did you spend on scientific notations in order to fit in all of these notes and activities? Thanks for everything you do!

Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove)

Friday 3rd of March 2017

I really don't remember. Sorry!

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