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Million penny collection

A penny collection campaign--aimed at gathering one million pennies-- by Perham fifth graders will move into high gear this week.

Why this week? It's presidents' week, and the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man who appears on the copper coin: Abraham Lincoln.

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

The million penny goal will be tough to reach, but the results so far have been none-the-less impressive--with an estimated 210,000 pennies collected. Already, that is $2,000. Collette reminds the students that all of the pennies will be donated to a good charitable cause--of their choosing.

The fifth graders are challenging the 6-8 graders in honor of Lincoln's birthday.

Each grade will have a jar for collections, said Collette. Interestingly, it will be yet another mathematics lesson--this time exploring the concept of positive and negative numbers.

If students place nickels or dimes in one of the opposing class's jars--those count as a "negative." So, if the fifth grade wants to help insure a victory in the challenge--they might put nickels, dimes or quarters in the 6-8 grade jars. As negative numbers, the larger coins will be subtracted from the opposing class's totals.

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 winter, 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.