Time Is Math

, , , , , , | | Learning | May 15, 2019

One of the disadvantages in teaching in my part of Alaska was that when spring finally rolled around, most of the boys — and some of the girls — would prefer to be out on the tundra shooting at the amazing plethora of recently-arrived ducks, geese, and cranes — and hopefully not shooting any swans!

Because hunting was a skill that was very important to the Yup’ik culture — and useful, too — I understood that they were learning some practical skills even outside my classroom. But on the other hand, if I reported too many absences, I’d be catching some flack from our district admins.

So, on whatever day that class attendance had dropped unacceptably low, I’d announce a lesson in ”money math.”

Some background info: over the course of that year, my students had been very active in fundraising, mainly showing movies for the village multiple days each week, at which we also sold a lot of popcorn, drinks, and homemade “ice pops.” So, by the end of the year, we had a lot of buckets full of coins. This money would usually follow them to the next higher grade the following year, but unfortunately, my predecessor had taken his classes’ money with him when he’d left the village two years earlier. To prevent that from happening again and to give my attending students some “real-life” math practice, I’d bring out one of the coin buckets and place a big handful of coins in front of each pair of “money math” partners.

They would then need to sort them into appropriate piles — quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies — and then use multiplication to find the total value of each type of coin — e.g. “7 quarters x 25 cents each = $1.75.” Then, each pair would need to add all of their total coin values together and write that amount in a list up on the blackboard. As a class, we then needed to add all of those amounts into a grand total of all the handed-out money for the day. And last, we needed to do on the board the most difficult division problem we’d ever done in order to figure out how much each student would be getting — and later giving them some additional practice at counting out their “shares.”

Hey, who says math needs to be boring?

As a pleasant, and very planned-upon consequence, attendance the following day would almost always be at or near 100%… even though “money math” was almost never offered two days in a row. I guess just the possibility that they might be missing out on a “money math” lesson gave them some extra motivation to not skip.

Developing Important Skills

, , , , , | | Learning | May 2, 2019

(Back in the days before digital cameras are a thing, new housing is about to be constructed for most of the families in my village, and since this is one of the last Yup’ik — “southern Eskimo” — villages in our region to get them, I want lots of “before” pics of the old houses for historical reasons. Because I want my students to be able to play a role in this process, I acquire some used 35mm cameras and tons of cheap government-surplus film for them to use, and then teach them how to develop it. This works surprisingly well for the most part, but in some cases, I guess my instructions and earlier demos aren’t quite good enough.)

Me: *checking in with one of my third-graders* “Okay, good job on loading the film reel. Next, take the tank out of the bag and add the developer. For this step, make sure you move the tank around as I showed you every minute for five minutes before you go to the next step, which will be the stop bath. Okay?”

(At this point, I need to tend to some other urgent classroom business, which takes a few minutes to resolve. Upon returning:)

Me: “Okay, how is it going? Did you remember to agitate it every minute?”

Student: *nods proudly* “Yes, I checked the clock very carefully!”

Me: “And how many minutes was it in?”

Student: *noting the second hand on the wall clock and dutifully giving the tank another swirl* “Nine!”

(Unfortunately, she’d been so focused on agitating it on each exact minute that she’d forgotten the more crucial part about the developer staying in for ONLY five minutes — after which it continues to get darker until it’s solid black. But on the plus side, the film was cheap and she did a great job on all of her future rolls of film.)

A Beautiful Blonde Moment

, , , , , | Friendly | April 27, 2019

(I’m in a convenience store perusing the aisles when a couple of middle-aged blonde women walk down the aisle I’m on. I’m pretty sure they are tipsy, and they’re talking really loudly in thick southern accents… but I am in a good mood and they are all smiles and giggles, so I can’t bring myself to be annoyed. I see them staring at coffee brands before I walk to the next aisle over, and I can hear them on the other side of the aisle trying to sort out what coffee brand they should buy.)

Lady #1: *after a couple of minutes of loudly discussing it with her friend* “We should call someone over here to help. I can’t decide.”

Me: *snickers to myself as her friend starts bellowing*

Lady #2: “Blondes in aisle twelve need service! Blondes in aisle twelve need service, over!”

Me: *from opposite the rack on the adjacent aisle, in my best official mock-intercom voice* “Customer service suggests that the blondes on aisle twelve chose the [Brand], over.”

(They burst into laughter asking one another who the heck had said that. Meanwhile, I walked down the aisle with a grin on my face, and one of the employees told me that they ought to hire me for customer service. Made my day, and the women’s day, too.)

Making You Work ½ As Hard

, , , , | Right | April 3, 2019

I work at a fish processing plant. People come to us with fish, both privately caught and commercial, and we cut them up and put the parts in vacuum bags. We work on a three-part assembly line: two people cut the fish, four people pack them into bags, and one packs them with two industrial packers. We usually deal with halibut, salmon, and rockfish.

The typical order is around fifty pounds of fish, and we pack them into bags of varying sizes: #½, #1, #1½, and #2, with filets going in larger custom-size bags. The vast majority of orders are #1, and although we can do multi-size orders, it is uncommon. #½ is almost never heard of, and we only ever stock fifty or so bags. Sometimes the customer orders us to clean off the fish with rags, but that slows down the line to a crawl.

One customer comes in with a hundred pounds of salmon, fifty pounds of rockfish, and a full hundred-and-forty-pound halibut.

They want half of the salmon in filets — cleaned with a rag —  twenty-five #1 bags and twenty-five #2 bags, they wanted the rockfish in #2 bags — inconvenient for such a small fish — and they wanted us to filet a hundred-and-forty-pound, six-foot freaking halibut, and put it in two-hundred-eighty #½ bags.

It took us three hours to process one order. The average is thirty minutes.

Anchorage, Alaska: A Thousand Thank-Yous

, , , , , , | Hopeless | December 14, 2018

Anchorage, Alaska experienced a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on the morning of November 30th, 2018. There was significant damage to infrastructure, roads, and buildings, but no collapses, and only a few older buildings have been deemed unsafe. No deaths reported! 72 hours after the major destruction of some of our main highways, they are back in commission, paved and striped. All the recovery efforts are simply amazing.

Stories have poured in thanking our amazing engineers and workers of the Alaska Department of Transportation getting our roads safe and fixed, the utility workers for going 24 hours a day to get us back on the grid and get us safe drinking water, and our first responders for a quick and calm emergency response.

But I’d like to take a minute to thank the gas station attendants who stayed at their jobs right after the quake to service the hundreds of panicked people filling up on gas before attempting the four- to five-hour trip home — a normal commute of 30 to 45 minutes — to Eagle River and the Mat-Su Valley. I would like to heartily thank the hundreds of grocery store clerks who stayed that day to keep the stores open, and who put in countless hours to clean up warehouses of glass and spills so that we could go in and get bread, water, and necessities — like deli sandwiches and any wine that survived the shake-up. And I want to thank the baristas who showed up at five am the day after, who held down the shaking syrup bottles through the many, many, many aftershocks and kept smiles on their faces. I just cannot even.

I would like to extend my enormous gratitude to the store clerks at our local True Value Hardware who swept most of the mess into a roped-off corner and opened early the next day because, “People are going to need to fix stuff up, and they need us open, not picture perfect.” At the same store, my husband witnessed a clerk scolding a fellow for trying to buy more than one set of water heater hoses saying, “Do you have multiple water heaters?” The fellow responded by shaking his head. The clerk asked, “Are you helping your neighbors?” The fellow sullenly shook his head in the negative again. The clerk said firmly, “Then I’ll only be selling you the one set; there are going to be a lot of people needing those today.”

To the cheerful diner waitress who kept our coffee topped up the day after this crazy event, to the artisans who forged ahead with a holiday craft show because people needed to have some cheer, to the musicians and actors who said that the show must go on… thank you a thousand times. THANK YOU.

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