WASHINGTON TERRACE — T.H. Bell Junior High School science teacher Al Ladeau is always talking about numbers.
About 13 years ago, Ladeau — looking to offer his students some perspective on numbers, specifically large ones — got the idea of collecting a million things.
He chose to collect soda pop tabs.
Ladeau recently reached his goal — his one-millionth soda pop tab.
The tabs sit in bags of 10,000, carefully stacked on a moving base that his students designed and constructed.
“The biggest thing is, this is a project done for kids by kids,” Landeau said, smiling proudly as he motioned toward his class of ninth-graders.
“I love the diversity it brought out. Every person got involved in one way or another,” he said, referring to thousands of students who have participated in his project for the past 13 years.
As Ladeau closed in on reaching his goal of one million, an announcement was made at nearby Bonneville High School. After that announcement, the tabs really began to pour in.
“A lot of those students went to Bell and knew about (the project), so they wanted to help. They were pretty excited,” Ladeau said of the Bonneville students.
He appointed several “crews” to be responsible for different parts in the collection process.
Ladeau has a counting crew that spends time during lunch and free time counting the tabs. He has a mounting crew that carefully helps mount all the bags of 10,000 so they don’t get lost or break open. And he has a design crew that has been creating a container to hold all the tabs, so they can be used easily for teaching purposes.
Morgan Holzinger is the leader of the counting crew. She said she loved spending time with her friends, joking around while counting the tabs; however, she admitted there was an order to the task.
Alec Jabcyzinski led the mounting and stacking crew, which turned into a rather precarious job because of the fragility of some of the bags that were started in 1999.
“We just started stacking one by one. Sometimes it didn’t work, and we had to change things a little,” Alec said.
Jayden Smith has helped design the container to house the tabs, and Connor Halterman is building it. The two appreciate the fact that Landeau had them designing and building it on their own — and that Ladeau has donated the materials out of his own pocket.
“I like the hands-on building and figuring it out. It is so much better than just sitting at my desk,” Connor said.
Other students have enjoyed what they have learned just by looking at the pop tabs.
Ladeau said one of his greatest object lessons is to use the tabs to help students understand populations and people. When the tsunami hit off the shores of Indonesia several years ago, he pulled out the tabs to help students comprehend how many people had lost their lives.
“I even have a hard time understanding just how big or how far away things are, so I know it helps them,” Ladeau said.
“It really helps put things into perspective,” said Anthony Kowalcyzk, a member of the counting crew.
For Jayden, it helps him understand how huge the universe is. “I see one million and think, wow, one billion is so much bigger,” he said.
As one of the students’ favorite teachers, Ladeau recently received an outstanding teacher award from the Parent Teacher Student Association for the past two years.
“Everyone just knows about him and knows this is what he does,” Morgan said, as she pointed to colored pop tabs around Ladeau’s podium.
Ladeau plans to retire next year, and said he would like to donate the tabs to the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City.
“This will be a project for kids, by kids and for kids again,” Ladeau said.
He was told that the Shriners could use the tabs to generate between $50,000 and $100,000 for surgeries for sick children.