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Perham students visualize one pennies

Perham fifth grade teacher Kelly Collette and her students plan to collect a million copper pennies by May 1, 2009. Counting the 24,000 they've collected so far, around the table from left, are Savanna Olson, Morgan Byer, Jesse Klatt, Kimberly Merkins and Ella Von Ruden.

Pennies from heaven -- and from mom, from dad, family, friends, neighbors; and from just about anybody, anywhere -- are being collected by Perham fifth grade students.

Goal: One million copper pennies.

The "penny project" in Kelly Collette's fifth grade is a class lesson in working with "big numbers," like millions, billions and trillions.

One million pennies equals $10,000. And by the end of the school year, students hope to donate that sum to the school and local charities.

By Monday, students had already collected 24,000 pennies. Still a long way to go, but a good start. They did the math on Monday, and concluded that about 5,000 pennies fit into a one gallon ice cream pail.

At that rate, they will need about 200 pails to reach the one million mark.

"Every year, we've had an exercise in big numbers, but I wanted to take it to the next step," said Collette. "I wanted to take that a step further and incorporate a project where they could actually see a million."

The class has performed experiments on paper with big numbers. For example, they calculated how long it would take to tap a pencil one million times, one billion times, and then one trillion times. By student calculations, it would take about eight years of tapping to hit a million.

Coincidentally, "big numbers" have been big news this fall, during the discussion of the federal bailout of the financial sector.

The bailout plan has been estimated as high as $1 trillion. The bailout wasn't the inspiration behind the pennies project, but it was another convenient and timely discussion point.

The penny collection will continue until May 1. Students will also be collecting pennies door-to-door on Halloween night.

"Obviously, we can't do this alone, so if you'd be willing to ask friends and relatives to help out, we'd really appreciate it," wrote Collette to parents. "If you are able to put out a collection jar at work...fantastic!"