Activity 2.1 - Powers of Ten Video and Discussion (30 min)

Target Student Performance

Students discuss how all systems can be analyzed by “zooming in” and “zooming out” through a hierarchy of systems at different scales.

Students view the Powers of Ten video and discuss the idea that all systems exist at multiple scales from atomic scale to the scale of the Universe.

Resources Provided

Recurring Resources


Print one copy of Powers of Ten 11 x 17 Poster display on your classroom wall. Prepare a computer with an Internet connection and a projector to watch the Powers of Ten video .

1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.

Show slide 2 of the 2.1 Powers of Ten PPT

Assessment takes place in Step 5 of the activity when students share ideas about what ethanol and water might look like at the atomic-molecular scale. Although many students will be familiar with the molecular formula for water, fewer students will understand what that means - that a water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Very few students will know the formula for ethanol (C2H5OH). Even students who know the meaning of the formulas may not be able to connect atomic-molecular scale formulas with macroscopic-scale phenomena. For example, they may have trouble drawing what water molecules look like in a drop of water or as water vapor in the air.


Make sure that students are watching actively by assigning them to identify the systems at one of the four benchmark scales: atomic-molecular, microscopic, macroscopic, or large scale.

Extending the Learning

Students can explore these Powers of Ten on interactive websites: