Make Your Own Powers of Ten

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Activity Source: 

Paleontological Research Institution. Adapted with Permission. 


For each student or student group:

  • Computer with Internet connection & Google Earth Pro (now free)
  • Digital camera (phone cameras are fine)
  • Meter stick
  • 10 meter measuring tape, if available


A classic science education film is Charles and Ray Eames’s Powers of Ten. The film begins by joining a picnic at a Chicago waterfront park “with a scene just one meter wide, which we view from just one meter away.” Each ten seconds, the camera pulls ten times further away. It is, "A film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero." See the film and learn more about the Charles and Ray Eames here:

Why Make a Local Version of Powers of Ten?

Reasons include:

  • Make maps more concrete for your students.
  • Extend student understanding of scale.
  • Highlight a key big idea:  To Understand (Deep) Time and the Scale of Space, Models and Maps are Necessary


It is important for the teacher to run through the procedure prior to attempting with a class.

  1. Watch the original Powers of Ten film:
  2. Watch the video of Google Earth Powers of Ten example: Tutorial videos are also linked from this page.
  3. Identify the site you’d like to serve as the center of your Powers of Ten. The schoolyard is a logical choice. Students may create their own Powers of Ten using their homes or other landmarks as center points. The project can be done individually, in groups, or as a class. Individual projects make more sense for rural districts, with lower population densities.
  4. Install Google Earth Pro (now available free). See for information. All of the work can be done with Google Earth, but the Pro version simplifies some steps.
  5. At the center point of your project, take pictures that include the meter stick. Take pictures showing one centimeter, 10 centimeters, and the entire meter stick. Featuring items in these pictures can help build understandings of scale. You might use a piece of playground equipment or something unique to your school or landmark. If you make one Powers of Ten for the whole class, you may wish to have your class form a ten-meter by ten-meter square and take a picture from a second story window.
  6. Use software to annotate your photos. PowerPoint will work and is demonstrated in video 1.01 on the tutorials page.
  7. Upload the images to a photo-sharing site, Google Drive, or a school server.
  8. Embed your images in a Google Earth placemark at the center of your Powers of Ten tour.
  9. Draw range rings around your center point using the range ring calculator at Use radii of 5m, 50m, 500m, 5km, 50km, and 500km.
  10. Use your range rings as guides to draw squares that are 10m x 10m, 100m x 100m, 1km x 1km and so on.
  11. Label your boxes following the example in the video tutorials.
  12. Adjust the settings and play your Powers of Ten.