You’ve probably heard of Superman, who first showed up in comic books in 1938. You may also know the famous words about him: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” So what does all of that really mean? The strength of a locomotive is measured in “horsepower,” where 1 horsepower can move a whopping 33,000 pounds 1 foot forward in 1 minute. A train engine can give you about 8,000 horsepower, so Superman is awesomely strong if he can match that. Meanwhile, bullets fly more than 1,000 miles an hour, and buildings can be more than 1,000 feet tall. Even jumping over a 25-foot-tall house sounds like more than any of us can do!
Wee ones: If Superman could leap over your house and 3 other houses all at once, how many tall buildings did he leap in a single bound?
Little kids: If Superman leaps over a house, then a car, then a tree, then a house again to repeat the pattern…what does he leap over on his 8th jump? Bonus: If you rounded up 8,000 horses to pull a train as hard as Superman, how would you count them up by thousands?
Big kids: We also say “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Superman!” The highest-flying bird, the bar-headed goose, can fly 21,000 feet high. If Superman can fly 10,000 feet higher than that, how high does he fly? Bonus: Commercial planes fly up to 45,000 feet at most. If Superman likes to fly halfway between the 21,000-foot bird and the plane, how high does he fly?
The sky’s the limit — for real: The Freedom Tower in New York City is 1776 feet tall. If Superman flies half that height in the 1st second, then half as far as that the 2nd second, then half as far as that the 3rd second, how high has he flown in 3 seconds? The numbers are pretty cool!
Wee ones: 4 houses.
Little kids: A car. Bonus: 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, 7,000, 8,000.
Big kids: 31,000 feet. Bonus: At 33,000 feet. If you ignore the thousands, you need the number halfway between 21 and 45. They are 45-21=24 apart, and half of that is 12, so you then add 12 to 21 to get 33 (or subtract 12 from 45).
The sky’s the limit – for real: 1554 feet. He flies 888 feet the 1st second, then another 444 feet, then another 222 feet.
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.