Do you know what stilts are? They’re sticks you strap to your legs to make you taller. Well, scientists decided to strap very tiny stilts on ants to see how far they’d walk. Why? Ants in the desert always find their way home, even though all the sand looks the same. The ants use the sun to find the right direction, but how do they know how far they walk? It turns out they use math: they count their steps. Scientists made tiny stilts out of pig hair and strapped them onto the ants’ legs. When the ants tried to walk home, the stilts made their steps bigger. They didn’t fix it by taking fewer steps — they walked way past their anthill!
Wee ones: How many steps do you take to get from your kitchen to your room? Try counting them up!
Little kids: How many more legs does an ant have than you? (Hint if needed: All insects have 6 legs.) Bonus: If you have a pair of ants and you put a tiny stilt on every leg, how many stilts do you need to make?
Big kids: If you can trim 6,000 hairs off 1 pig, for how many ants can you make stilts for all their legs? Bonus: If an ant thinks it’s walking 52 miles to get home, but the stilts make it walk twice that distance, by how many miles does the ant overshoot its home?
Wee ones: Different for everyone, but starting with 1, 2, 3, 4…
Little kids: 4 legs more…that’s 6 for the ant vs. 2 for you. Bonus: 12 stilts.
Big kids: 1,000 ants. Bonus: By 52 miles! It walks 104 instead of 52.
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.