Off-the-shelf Masterclass: Big and Small

Off-the-shelf Primary Mathematics Masterclass all about big and small numbers.

Explore mathematical techniques for manipulating numbers from the minuscule to the huge. Test students' skills at estimation along the way by sampling small amounts and scaling up.

  • Credit: Ian Glover via Flickr creative commons

About this Masterclass

Being able to easily handle very big and very small numbers when studying mathematics and other subjects is very important. In this session, the students are introduced to notational ways of handling these types of numbers.

Once they have mastered these basic skills, explore interesting methods for approximation and try out some fun and unusual estimating activities such as how many books are there in the library and cake sprinkles in the jar!

Length: 2 hours (see the session leader notes for ideas on how to shorten the Masterclass).

Resources needed

  • Bucket full of ping-pong balls
  • Jar of hundreds-and-thousands cake sprinkles (not spherical shaped ones), and a marker pen to mark on the tub
  • A calculator for yourself
  • Small clipping of a newspaper column - should be entirely covered in words - per student; if you can make this be a neat fraction of a page in your book, such as a quarter, that will help
  • A book, to hold up as an example and estimate how many words it has in it
  • Ruler for each student
  • 2 worksheets printed for each student
  • Cosmic Voyage: The Power of Ten video, at
  • Computer and data projector
  • Further details of quantities etc. can be found in Session Leader Notes


All supporting notes, worksheets and solutions can be downloaded from this page along with the Powerpoint presentation.

The Session Leader Notes offer full notes on the activities and a detailed list of resources, including quantities needed. For additional guidance, the session script gives a full run-through of the Masterclass.

The Session Helper Sheet can be distributed amongst helpers and an Additional Information Sheet giving more details on the history and background of the subject is provided for added interest.

Ask the Ri

You can collect any student questions and email them to the Ri Masterclass team at - we will endeavour to answer them before the next Masterclass in your series.

Masterclass series support

For more information on running a Masterclass series and the support, templates and other resources available to you, please get in touch via