Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

October 7, 2013

Before there was Google, there was googol. And, no, a googol is not another incredibly popular search engine. A googol is a number**—**a really, really big number. Don’t ever expect to count to it or ask your child to do so. It would take forever to get there! Googol is typically expressed as 10^{100}, but to write it out on paper, you would start with 10 and then write another 100 zeros!

Here’s what it looks like: 100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

00000000000000000000000000000. It doesn’t even fit on one typed line. It’s quite a mind-blowing idea for your children. As a first grader, my older son enjoyed writing it out by hand. Given his scrawling handwriting, it took many sheets of paper and a lot of time, but something about such a large number just fascinated him.

**Google Is Born**

It’s no coincidence that the Google search engine sounds so much like googol. Founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, named the search engine as a play on the number. The mega search engine was initially named BackRub. In 1997, however, the founders decided to change the name to Google since they liked the idea of a 10 followed by 100 zeros. It has an infinite feel to it, and the Google guys planned a search engine with practically infinite information.

**The Origins of Googol**

As you explain a googol to your child, share how the mind-boggling number came to be. After all, it’s difficult to imagine having a googol of cookies or a googol of pencils! Your little one might wonder what kind of mind comes up with something like that. Well, the answer is a young mind! Nine-year-old Milton Sirotta made the name up in 1938. His uncle Edward Kasner went on to name a googolplex, which is 10^{googol}.

**Considering a Googol**

A googol is 10^{10^2}. 10^{10 }is big enough. That’s 10 times itself 10 times or 10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10, but a googol is much, much, much larger since it’s 10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10*10 and on and on until it’s been multiplied 100 times or 10^{100}.

**Fun Facts**

Interestingly, some Google firsts were also powers of 10, just like googol. In 1998, Google received a check for $100,000 written to Google, Inc., even though Google wasn’t incorporated yet! 100,000 is 10^{5}.

*PC Magazine* included Google in its top 100 websites of 1998. 100 is 10^{2}.

In 2000, Google released its first 10 language versions. 10 is 10^{1}.

Share how easy it is to write multiples of 10 in exponential form (a way to show how many times a number is multiplied by itself). All you have to do is count the zeros. For example, 100 is 10^{2} because there are two zeros. 1000 is 10^{3} because there are three zeros, and 1,000,000 is 10^{6} because there are 6 zeros.

**Googol Activities**

*Here are activities to help children understand larger numbers:*

- Have your child gather or count out 100 items, such as Legos, elbow macaroni noodles, sunflower seeds, blocks, small erasers, coins, or toy cars. Discuss what 1,000, 10,000, and 100,000 items would look like. How much space would they take up? Ask your child to imagine what a googol would look like and how much space it would take up.
- Can You Say Really Big Numbers? Use this interactive online activity to discover what really big numbers look and sound like.
- Your local library might have this out-of-print book that my boys enjoyed, Big Numbers. A pea turns into two and then 4, 16 and so on as the book explains exponential growth though playful illustrations.
- Visualize large numbers by visiting sites like Mega Penny Project by Kokogiak Media to see what one billion pennies looks like and this Pagetutor to visualize one trillion dollars.
- It sounds basic, but my boys really enjoyed working “googol” and “googolplex” into conversations. Start a conversation by asking your child to imagine what he’d like to have a googol of n his life.

Kim Moldofsky is a mom of teen boys in the Chicago area. She blogs at TheMakerMom.com and hosts a the popular monthly #STEMchat on Twitter where parents and educators share ideas and resources to raise STEM-loving kids.

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