Teaching Them The Whole Nine Yards

, , , , | Learning | March 5, 2018

(I teach physics to students in a university aviation course in New Zealand. It is like flight school, but with more depth of background knowledge, and you get a degree at the end of it. There are about 20 students, and about half of them are from Asian nations: Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, etc. The first lesson is unit conversion. I give them some unit conversion factors, like miles to feet and feet to meters, and give some examples, one of which is something like, “Convert 340 yards and 2 feet into miles.” An Asian student raises their hand.)

Student: “What is a yard?”

Me: “I am so happy to find out there are people in the world who don’t know what a yard is. Alas, I am about to destroy your innocent ignorance.”

(I explain inches, feet, yards, chains, furlongs, and miles, to the astonishment of half the class.)

Penny Dreadfuls

, , , , , | Learning | February 9, 2018

(I am a volunteer with my kids’ school’s parent group. We are raising money for new playground equipment and it is decided to involve the kids in a small way by doing a penny drive. Each class is to collect as many pennies as possible. On the big day, each class will count and put their pennies in the pre-rolled wrappers we provide. Parent volunteers go to each class to explain the process. My first class is the kindergarten kids. They are sitting on the floor in a semicircle with their piles of pennies in front of them, ready to go to work.)

Me: “Okay, guys, I’m going to show you how to roll your piles of pennies into these tubes. We have to have 50 pennies in each tube. How many of you can count to 50?”

(There are a lot of worried looks from the kids at this point.)

Me: “Okay, how many of you can count to ten?”

(All hands shoot up, and I show them how to make five piles of ten, and how to put the pennies into the rolls.)

Me: “Do you need me to show you again?”

Student: *as she waves me off* “No, we’ve got it!”

(At the end of the day, we collect the rolls from each class. In the grade-four class, they have all the rolls on a table, and I can see things aren’t right. Some rolls are so full the paper can’t be crimped over the end, while some are obviously not full at all.)

Me: “[Teacher], these aren’t right; they’ll all have to be recounted.”

Teacher: “Oh, does the bank care about that?”

(The upshot was that I took almost $600 in pennies home, and with the help of my three kids I made sure that all the rolls from the entire school were done right, as the quality seemed to decrease with the students’ ages. The only class to get it perfect was the kindergarten kids. I guess they wanted to prove that they could count, while the others didn’t care.)

In For A Penny…

, , , , , | Right | February 5, 2018

(Working at a meat counter, I have long since come to terms with the fact that many apparently functional adults have no idea what a pound is, or a kilogram, either, for that matter, but this episode stands out in my memory. The customer looks to be about 25 or so.)

Customer: “What does 200 grams of ground chicken look like?”

Me: *puts some ground chicken in a bag and weighs it* “This is 220 grams.”

Customer: “Oh, no. I wanted pounds.”

Me: “Okay, sure. How many pounds? Two?”

Customer: “No, two hundred.”

Me: “You want 200 pounds of ground chicken.”

Customer: *with absolute conviction* “Yes.”

Me: *long pause* “Okay. Well, we don’t have that much in the store. We can probably order it in for you, but it’ll be a few days.”

Customer: *gets confused look* “What? Wait. How much is a pound?”

Me: *holds up same bag of chicken* “This is half a pound.”

Customer: “Oh! No, I’ll have two pounds, then.”

Me: “Two pounds, I can do.”

Not Quite The Formula For Success

, , , , , , , | Learning | February 4, 2018

(For the final exam, the teacher allows the math class to bring two specific notes pages, as well as one index card with any additional formulas they want to have available on the test. During the test, a couple of students ask questions:)

Student #1: “I don’t see #1 on my notes pages.”

Teacher: “It’s not there, but there was a formula.”

Student #1: “Where would it be?”

Teacher: “I don’t know where you wrote it.”

Student #1: “Do you know the formula?”

Teacher: *pause* “Yes.”

Student #1: *tries to hand notes to teacher* “Will you write it for me?”

Teacher: “No.”

Student #2: “I’m confused on how to do these two problems.”

Teacher: “Those require you to use either the Law of Sines or the Law of Cosines.”

Student #2: *blank look*

Teacher: “…or use ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe,’ since it’s multiple choice.”

Student #2: “Works for me.” *circles answer*

Facts Versus Opinions: The Never-Ending Debate

, , , , , | Working | January 30, 2018

(I work in a vaccine development company making viral vaccines. We usually write quantities of viruses in “log ten” units because the numbers are huge, e.g. six logs is a million. My colleague in charge of the process development team is giving a report. I’m in the assay development team, and she doesn’t get along with any of us.)

Colleague: “You can see that the total amount of virus in this run was twelve logs in the raw harvest and went down to nine logs in the purified batch. So, it’s only a twenty-five percent loss, which I think is pretty good.”

(Twelve logs is a trillion and nine logs is a billion.)

Me: “You can’t calculate percentages on log values. That’s not correct.”

Colleague: “How can you say it’s not correct? Twelve minus nine is twenty-five percent loss.”

Me: “You can’t do it like that. You have to convert to linear [regular numbers] first.”

Colleague: “This is my data! I can choose how I want to present it! You have to respect my opinion!”

(We end up arguing over secondary school maths for about five minutes before the boss, annoyed, stands up and points at the slide.)

Boss: “That is not a 25% loss. That is a 99.9% loss.”

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