A Billion Nickels


This problem solving activity, originally posted on my own blog in this form, encourages students to explore questions they have after watching a parks and recreation video. Depending on where they go with it, they will likely look at volume, mass and capacity. This has become one of my favorite activities. It is presented in Dan Meyer’s 3 Act Math Story style.

Act One

Click on Andy to play the movie.

Find out what the students wonder about and what information they will need to answer their questions. Most groups I try this with initially wonder whether it will really be a billion nickels. For younger grades, this is probably sufficiently difficult. For the grade 10 audience I am targeting this for here, wait for them to get to something involving volume or mass. Some classes have explored whether a billion nickels would fit in their classroom. Some classes have explored how many dump trucks it would take to bring in a billion nickels.

Act Two

The fine folks over at Wikipedia have provided us with enough information for most of the questions that students will want to explore. If they talk about dump trucks, I’m sure you can Google it yourself. If not, click here.

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 7.44.12 AM

Act Three

The good folks over at Parks and Recreation didn’t film the right answer for us. If anybody wants to withdraw 20 000 nickels, stack them up in some way, film it or photograph it, and send it my way, I would appreciate it. Otherwise, this is the best I can do.

Answer: They won’t fit in the classroom (unless you have a classroom that is roughly 689 cubic metres).

Answer: Assuming 10 cubic yards per dump truck, you’d need 91 or so.

Answer: Most dump trucks could handle the mass involved.


If Andy he piled his $1000 in nickels in a giant stack, how high would they reach? What about a billion nickels?

The story about Samsung paying off an Apple lawsuit using truckloads of nickels is a really nice sequel to this one.  I have been using screenshots of this site, which I believe this is the origin of the story. The Humor>Satire also clearly indicates it’s a fake story. Timon Piccini sent links to this story , which isn’t as obviously fake. I found the following YouTube video purporting to be the 30 trucks delivering the nickels. I’m no world traveler, but it looks awfully European to me. It still might be fun to run it by a class full of kids.

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