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How many is a million? Betty Hester knew she could teach the concept, but she wanted her students to grasp the idea by actually seeing what a million of something looks like.

"It's hard to get students to visualize a big number like one million," said Ms. Hester, a 7th and 8th grade math teacher at John Adair Middle School in Columbia, Ky. So to help her students along, she decided to have them start a collection. They chose soda-can pull tops.

"We got started on the project two months ago, but we are already a third of the way there," Ms. Hester said last week.

Ms. Hester said the project has not only taught the concept of a million. She has also used it to teach about recycling and the environment, along with a social studies tie-in as the community has become more involved.

Residents in and around Columbia, a rural town about 80 miles south of Louisville, have gone all out to help the students reach their goal. The students are also receiving help from other communities--so far they have collected pull tabs from at least 17 states.

Eight plastic containers filled with pull tabs are stacked to the ceiling of Ms. Hester's classroom. Each weighs about 40 pounds and holds around 40,000 tabs.

In order to keep up with the flood of tiny aluminum strips, at the end of the day students count tabs into piles of 100. Ms. Hester says they'll need nearly 6,000 tabs every school day to make their goal--a million by the end of the school year.

So far, the students are way ahead of that schedule--tallying as many as 15,000 tabs a day.

When the project is finished the tabs will be recycled, and the class will donate the proceeds to a local charity. Ms. Hester says they'll bring in about $350.

Catherine A. Schaller, a 5th grade math teacher at Beethoven Elementary School on Chicago's South Side, has become the 1,000th recipient of the Milken Educator Award.

The $25,000 awards are given by the Milken Family Foundation to honor outstanding educators. Ms. Schaller, 37, received the award in a surprise ceremony last week at her school. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based foundation has given $25.5 million to educators since 1985.


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