The biggest number in the universe


This is an activity based on the picture book The Biggest Number in the Universe

Achievement Objectives
NA2-2: Know forward and backward counting sequences with whole numbers to at least 1000.
NA2-8: Find rules for the next member in a sequential pattern.
Description of Mathematics
  1. Counting numbers go on forever, no matter how large the number there is another that is 1 more.
  2. Individual numbers and groups of numbers have characteristics.
  3. Numbers can have special meaning to people related to their identity, milestone ages, or cultural beliefs.
  4. “Big” whole numbers have more digits than “smaller” numbers (whole number place value places).
Required Resource Materials
Boxes, construction paper and collage materials

The Biggest Number in the Universe, by Julie Leibrich


This activity is based on the picture book The Biggest Number in the Universe.

Author: Julie Leibrich
Illustrator: Ross Kinnaird.
Publisher: Scholastic New Zealand
ISBN: 1869436024
Published in te reo as: Te Nama Tino Rahi Rawa Atu I te Whaiao

Nesta is a young girl determined to have a really BIG number to take to school. She visits her grumpy neighbour, Mr. Abacus the mathematician in the hopes he will lend her one of his many numbers. Nesta finally convinces him to lend one of his huge numbers only to have it meet with disaster. During her apology, Mr. Abacus shares the secret of infinity and Nesta discovers the biggest number in the universe.

Lesson Sequence:

  1. Prior to reading the story, ask students "What is the biggest number you know?" and assess the understanding students have of place value and number place names as well as the concept of infinity.
    Can you think of a number bigger than that?
  2. Share the story with students and during reading engage them with the mathematic vocabulary within the story.
    Why is Mr Abacus a good name for a mathematician?
    What other names would be good for mathematician characters?
    Why is a “pie” a good gift for a mathematician?
    What does Nesta mean when she says she already has a five?
    Why would the “2” be misbehaving?
    What does Mr Abacus mean ”the biggest number is one”?
  3. Following the reading, revisit p.16-17 and investigate the containers for the numbers in Mr Abacus’s kitchen. Also investigate the end papers (inside front and back cover).
    What sorts of containers are used for different kinds of numbers? (for example Very Old Numbers in Grecian urns, Hong Kong 7s in a trophy cup, 100 in a spider web, extra large figures in an IRD jar)
  4. Ask students to brainstorm different kinds of containers for other groups of numbers.
    What sort of container could we use to keep: squares, evens, odds, cubes, primes, lucky numbers, multiples of ten, remainders, fractions, formulas?
  5.  Provide students with materials to create number containers and display these on a set of “shelves” on a bulletin board. Leave spaces to create new containers as different groups or types of numbers are investigated over the year (like an “octo-pot” for the 8x table, or a broken jar for fractions)
  6. As follow up students can go “hunting” for numbers around the school environment and take digital photos as records of where numbers can be found and what kinds of numbers are found in certain places.


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