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August 20, 2004

A Billion Vs a Killion

Ohlone Elementary is a school in Palo Alto with an amazing approach to imparting education. In mathematics, especially, I was struck by their insistence that we should not teach algorithms blindly to kids (carrys, borrows, etc.) I admit to being initially skeptical of this, until one day my suspicions were finally laid to rest. I wrote this letter to my son's teacher in appreciation.

Dear Ms XXX

Often when putting Panini to bed, we engage in a fun and silly game in
which we throw silly and ridiculous questions at each other and answer
them with similarly silly responses. Midway during this game last
night, after we had done due justice to his currently favorite themes
regarding the smallest spiders, greatest galaxies, biggest bombs and
the wealthiest people, Panini asked me ``Which is bigger, a billion or
a killion?'' I am ashamed to admit I was only half-attentive during
this ritual yesterday, being preoccupied with other things, and so I
said ``I don't know. 'Cos there is no such thing as a killion''.

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