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.)