A Sadly Familiar Pattern

, , , , , | | Learning | July 9, 2019

I went to a private school from second through seventh grade. Each year, my school and the nearby private schools held a competition called Math Olympics. Basically, it was a Saturday where you took a math test against people in your grade, and people got ribbons for the top five scores.

I placed second in third grade, and was all prepared when the time came around in fourth grade. Like a spelling bee, there was a qualification round during class one day, where two “olympiads” and two alternates would be chosen.

The teacher passed out our tests during math time, but as people started getting to the last problem, she found that many people were asking for help. She went around just repeating, “Number 20 is a pattern,” to anyone with their hand up, dealing with other questions if they were on a different problem.

By the time my tablemate got to problem 20, I had already turned in my paper and picked up my book to read. He put his hand up, having been too involved in the first 19 problems to catch what the teacher had been saying, but there was a note on the board saying that she’d give a hint about it.

After what felt like a long time without the teacher coming over, he started waving his hand, trying to get attention. Eventually, he made small sounds when she walked by, which she did at least three times after I started paying attention. It was annoying, so I just leaned over and said, “Number 20 is a pattern.”

That, the teacher noticed. She snatched the boy’s test off the table before he could even pick up his pencil again, and told us both to stay in the room while everyone else went to lunch.

We sat there, alone, long enough to take our lunch boxes from the backpack area, eat lunch, and throw away our trash before our teacher brought back the principal.

The principal took us one at a time to tell her what happened, and I told her the truth of the situation — that the teacher had promised everyone a hint, but was ignoring my tablemate, so I told him exactly what she had been telling everyone else.

Despite explaining myself as best I could, it was deemed cheating, so neither of us were allowed to compete. I went on to win first place in later years, but I still find it unfair that I got labeled a cheater for that.

A Testing Enrollment Process

, , , , , | | Learning | July 1, 2019

(I am dropping off some paperwork at my son’s new school so he can begin first grade in the fall. The staff member helping me is shocked I don’t have any report cards from his time in a hybrid classroom/homeschool kindergarten. I’ve just finished explaining that the public charter school overseeing his schooling had an educational specialist meet with him monthly to evaluate his progress.)

Staff Member: “No report cards? But do you mean he didn’t get any grades?”

Me: “No report cards and no grades. But he did have monthly in-person evaluations with the charter school specialist.”

Staff Member: “But, but, but… What about tests? I’m sure he took tests. You know, where he wrote stuff down.”

Me: “Not that I know of. We didn’t do formal tests. But he had a monthly evaluation by the public charter school specialist.”

Staff Member: “But how do you know he was learning anything?”

Me: “His charter school evaluated him monthly to be sure he was keeping up to state standards, and I’ve been tracking his progress against state standards, too.”

Staff Member: “But, but, but… Who taught him?”

Me: “Two days a week he was in a classroom with other kids and a teacher, his dad taught him most subjects on other days, and I taught him reading.”

Staff Member: “Okay, but, but, but… Tests. He had to have taken some tests. How did you know how he was doing in school?”

Me: “His charter school regularly evaluated him against the state standards, and so did I.”

Staff Member: “But what about reading? How do you know he can read?”

Me: “Because I can put a book in front of him and he reads it to me.”

Staff Member: “But, but, but… How do you know he understands what he’s reading?”

Me: “Because he interacts with what he’s reading in an understanding way.”

Staff Member: “But, but, but… What about tests?”

(Should I be worried about this fixation on tests?!)

A Fate Worse Than Death

, , , , | | Learning | June 16, 2019

(I am a teacher’s assistant at an elementary school. I am eating lunch in my classroom, which is empty except for one of my coworkers and a student she’s having lunch with. I’m not paying attention to their conversation, until I hear this part.)

Coworker: “How do you know I’m not a spy from the future?”

Student: “Um… Ms. [My Name], help me!”

Me: “How do you know I’m not a spy, too?”

(The student stares at us in horror.)

Coworker: “Why do you think we wear all-black uniforms?”

Me: “We’re all time-traveling spies.”

Student: “You’re fibbing.”

Me: “All right, Ms. [Coworker], she has to be eliminated.”

Coworker: “You know what that means, right?”

Student: “…”

Me: “You have to go live in Canada.”

Student: *tearfully* “I hate Canada.”

Going Out On A Limb Here, But They’ll Be Fine

, , , , , , | | Learning | May 31, 2019

I am a speaker brought in to talk about bullying in the elementary school after the fourth grade has had multiple problems with it. I have three assemblies this morning: first grade, second and third grades, and fourth and fifth grades. During the second and third grade assembly, I am going through my usual points, and I ask, “How many of you know someone with a disability?” My followup question was going to be about whether or not they treat them just like everyone else, within reason.

I see two girls near the middle row both sticking up their hands, one blonde-haired and one black-haired, and I choose the blonde. She rises to speak and I see that she is a double amputee, missing an arm from near the shoulder and a leg from near the hip — she is wearing a prosthetic. I am expecting her to talk about herself, so it is quite surprising when she says, “My cousin has hearing aids ’cause she can’t hear properly, and glasses ’cause she can’t see properly, and she’s really shy about it.”

Looking proud of herself, the girl sits down. Meanwhile, the black-haired girl sitting next to her hugs the blonde and then blurts out, “Well, my best friend has one arm and one leg!”

The blonde girl gets a look that clearly says, “Oh, yeah!” on her face. Then, one boy sitting in the front row turns around and yells, “[Girl] isn’t disabled! She’s just [Girl]!” The rest of the front half of the room yells their agreement, and the black-haired girl gives the best “I’m surrounded by idiots” face I’ve ever seen from a child. I doubt that the second and third grades are going to have much trouble with bullying in the near future.

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.

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