Substitute the Population of the United States

I was a substitute teacher in Hackettstown High School today. It went fine. I was a little worried about being able to wake up early enough for school but it ended not being a problem.

In the last period of the day, my class of sophomores were to watch two TV shows… an episode of Discovery Channel’s Extreme Machines and Mega Machines. The shows were fine enough but I would have rather been teaching them than babysitting them. Well enough…

Then there was this discussion:

TV: The sugar from one truckload of cane from this truck will feed a person for 428 years.
Kid: Wow, we eat too much sugar.
Lee: Well, it’s not that much sugar when you think about it.. 1 person for 428 years or 428 people for 1 year is the same thing. Thinking about the population of the United States, that’s not much at all. [half talking to myself] Let’s see, what’s the population of the U.S.
Kid: Like 10 million people.
Lee: [Stopped dead in my tracks. Wide eyed stare, mouth agape]
Another kid: [Seeing that I thought the first kid was way off] No, it’s like a billion people.
Lee: [Mouth closed. Mouth opened. Mouth closed]
Lee: [Walks up to the TV and shuts it off] [Speaking to class] That was really interesting. What did he say about how much sugar one truckload contained? ……..

A discussion ensues in which most of the kids shout out guesses as to the U.S. population, all of which are wildly wrong. I have them take a stab at the world population and they fare no better. New York City population? Zero for three. :-(

We talked about populations for a few minutes, I gave them some facts, and then we got back to the program.

I would have liked to turn it into a full discussion about scale…. “How many people are in the room? School? Town? State?…” Especially after hearing one student in the class claim, “A friend told me that Hackettstown is in the Guiness Book of World Records as having the most number of fast food restaurants in a 1/8 mile stretch.” A discussion ensued in which some kids believed that, though I doubted the claim. He asked to go look it up on the internet and I gladly consented. (for those of you not in the know, Hackettstown is a small far-suburb town about an hour away from New York City. The strip he was referring to has about 8 fast food joints on one side of the street, all on lazy, large plots of land) After a few minutes of googling, it was the end of the period and he hadn’t come up with anything. He said that he had, “a hard time logging on” but I had been glancing over his shoulder every couple minutes…. he likely needed a lesson in how to do an internet search.

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