David Schwartz's classic book How Much Is a Million? (1985) can be the catalyst for sparking many interesting mathematical investigations. This article describes five episodes in which children in grades 2–5 all heard this familiar story read aloud to them. At each grade level, they were encouraged to think of their own way to explore the concept of one million. During these investigations, which included whole-class, small-group, and individual projects, the children used many different mathematical concepts, such as place value, length, area, money, and ratio. They also used skills, such as estimating, measuring, and comparing, as well as learning an appropriate use of the calculator. All of the examples showcase children as active problem solvers who developed ownership of the problems they posed for themselves. They found relevance in the explorations because they tied them to familiar contexts, such as a classroom carpet, Girl Scout cookies, or a set of toy train tracks. As the children demonstrated their ability to communicate their reasoning, solve challenging problems, and connect mathematical concepts and skills to real-world contexts, their work reflected many of the goals of the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM 2000).
David J. Whitin works regularly with teachers to promote an inquiry-based approach to the teaching and learning of mathematics.