Posted tagged ‘Algebra’

Middle School Math and Life

April 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 25, 2019

                                   

“Middle school math is the dumbest thing!” a young lady in eighth grade informs me with conviction and angst. Her eyebrows flow together in a sloped look of frustration.

“Why is it dumb?” I ask, not thinking of the redirected venom that will now come my way.

“What do I care about square roots?”

I have no comeback. I know there’s reasons, but they are all escaping me. If the final answer of Jeopardy happened to be “Square Root” I wouldn’t know what the question was!

“I’m sure you’ll use it someway.”

“How? It’s dumb!”

“Well…”

“You can’t think of an answer, can you?”

“I…I…!” Truth be told, I was a math whiz until the alphabet got intimately engaged to numbers, like a mail order bride to arrived and couldn’t be returned. In my 8th grade class the teacher asked what 28 multiplied by 23 was and I popped up with the answer first. I could figure it out in my head in a snap. 

“644!”

The next year “a” and “b” suddenly started hanging around with 1, 2, and 3, and I couldn’t even remember my own name.

“Some things in life just aren’t clear to us until later on.”

“That sounds like something an adult would say!”

“I am! A very old adult, in fact!”

“The only way I’ll use math in life is in spending money, stuff like that.”

“I hope that’s not the only way you use math. What about if you were baking a cake and you needed to measure amounts of ingredients?”

“I’m never going to bake a cake. I don’t like cake.”

“What do you like?”

“Packaged cookies and store-bought candy.”

I have no comeback for that one. This is a student whose diet consists of processed food and wrapped up sugar. “How about if you bought a house and were trying to figure up how much interest you would pay if the interest rate was at a  certain level?”

“I can’t think about that. I’ll be living with my parents for the next decade or so, and then I won’t be able to buy a house because I’ll have to pay off my school loans for the rest of my life and beyond!”

“You sound pessimistic about math and life.”

“No! I just don’t like math. It’s dumb and stupid and I’d rather have a tooth pulled.”

“Well…you WILL use math in life! Believe me!”

“Life doesn’t have to be that complicated! You get up in the morning, you get dressed, you do your thing, and there you go! Math is dumb and my class is dumb!

“So…is it the class, the fact that you have it the first period of the day, the students in your class, or something else?”

“EVERYTHING!” she answers exasperated. 

“I tell ya’ what!” I have a brainstorm coming. “You tell me something that is a part of your life, or will be a part of your life, and I’ll tell you how math is related to it.”

“Snapchat!”

“Okay! Ahhh…there’s one for you! How about something else, like some daily routine or job you are asked to do?”

“Snapchat is a daily routine for me!”

“Okay, besides Snapchat.”

“Harry Potter!”

“I…don’t really know anything about Harry Potter, but I guess you would need to know how far you are in reading one of the books…like halfway, or two-thirds done…how about that?”

“That’s lame! You read it until you’re done and that’s it! What’s the point of saying you’re half done? The best part is towards the end anyway, not some fraction point! That doesn’t add up!”

“Was that a math joke you just made?”

“No!” she responds, clueless about her unintended humor.

“Well, you’ve just got to trust me on this one! Math will be important to you in a lot of ways!”

“Sure!” she says with cynicism. “I’ll probably use it to figure out how many houses Santa Claus has to get to each minute on Christmas Eve, or how many hops the Easter Bunny makes in an hour?”

“Now you’re getting it!” I say as I smile.

She sneers at me. In her eyes I’m one of THEM, an unreasonable adult who has been tainted by the equations of life!

Teaching Seventh Grade Algebra

April 15, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           April 15, 2017

                                    “Teaching Seventh Grade Algebra”

My substitute teaching resume’ added another wrinkle to it this week when I subbed for one of the seventh grade math teachers. When I did a long-term substitute position in January in seventh grade social studies Mrs. Tiernan was on my four-person teaching team, which means we had the same 125 students in math, science, social studies, and language arts.

But here’s the thing! I was as clueless as a prepubescent boy in a Victoria’s Secret mall store! I had no clue on what they were trying to figure out. When some genius decided it would be funny to combine letters with numbers in a math equation he/she lost me. I write blog posts with letters! I figure out my checking account with numbers!

X – (y + z) + 3 – (-x – 3z) = ______

Huh?

“Mr. Wolfe, I don’t understand number 13 on the work sheet!” whined a blonde-headed kid.

“Great! It’s good to know I’m not the only one!”  He stared at me confused for a moment, and when I didn’t offer anything else he turned and walked away thinking, “He’s not very smart!”

A red-headed young lady approached. “Mr. Wolfe, when x is negative and it’s added to y that is positive do you figure out the total of the equation inside the parenthesis before using the multiplier with z?”

“Sure! Why not? Go for it!” I respond, like I’m giving her permission to supersize her meal at McDonald’s.

“Are you sure?” she looks at me with growing uncertainty.

“As sure as an eskimo trying to find a polar bear in Bolivia!” (I have a habit of just making up sayings on the fly that sometimes make sense, but often are about as understandable as spaghetti and meatballs on a Chinese buffet!)

The whispers in the class increase as the period goes on. They know I’m a good social studies teacher, but have discovered that I’m as impostor in the math classroom. I’m like a bad Leonardo DeCaprio in “Can’t Catch Me Now!”

When algebra is not your strength in the midst of seventh graders they begin to question your intelligence…some even whether you have any value to the human race still! To be fair, I was a whiz with numbers before they start dating letters! I could add two numbers in my head in a snap while my classmates were struggling to “carry the one!” I was feeling pretty good about myself with I was twelve, and then someone broke into the math textbooks and inserted x’s and y’s!

Perhaps that’s where adolescent uncertainty and the reduction in a teenager’s self-worth occurred! I would have probably continued to be well-balanced until that unnatural connection between a number and a letter appeared.

And now I’m reliving those days when my first facial pimple surfaced and anything said to a student of the opposite sex could be twisted or misunderstood in ways that caused me to break out in a sweat and run in the opposite direction.

“Mr. Wolfe, I don’t understand-“

“I hear you on that one! But, hey…good luck! I’ll be praying for you!”

Observing Junior High Math Class

February 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 10, 2016

                                 

On Monday I sat in on two different junior high math classes. As I’m gearing up to be a substitute teacher I wanted to experience another classroom situation, and also to revisit the subject that I had difficulty with back when Moby Dick was a minnow. I was great with numbers…and then some wise guy started including letters into the problem. I got lost in the midst of “x’s” and “y’s”. If you asked me how much 45 times 20 was I could tell you faster than an adding machine, but put a letter into the mix and I floundered like a fish flopping in the bottom of the boat.

But I went willingly to this classroom of formulas and adolescent confusion, and I learned several things. One, that I actually understood part of the lessons, and enjoyed it…kind of!

Two, that junior high boys haven’t changed since 1968! Oh, they have fancier devices now, but at the core they are twins two generations removed from those who sat in the same classrooms.

Thirteen year old boys still make noises. When the teacher was on the other side of the room there was a good chance that a farting sound would come from somebody. One boy broke out in a humming sound until he was asked to keep it quiet. Pencils were used at various moments as drumsticks on desk tops. Fingers were snapped against open jaws to make popping sounds.

Junior high boys make noise!

Junior high girls ranged from totally quiet to “Chatty Cathy’s”, who would suddenly erupt in nonsensical comments. During a class time when students worked together on an assignment you could hear snippets of conversations about Super Bowl Dorito’s commercials, the half-time entertainment, and what was eaten that day for lunch.

Junior high boys still like attention. I identified the three boys in the first five minutes of the class whose social standing was based on their wisecracks and off-the-wall humor. They weren’t malicious…just in need of being noticed.

Junior high students are special. Several people asked me why I would observe in a classroom of 8th graders. Was I on some kind of probation and this was part of my sentencing? Did I not get that memo about how junior high boys cause hair-pulling and temporary instructor insanity?

Actually, I enjoy thirteen year olds just as much…maybe even more…than sixteen and seventeen year olds.

There you go! Now you know I’m warped!

Being An Old Rookie

February 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 3, 2016

                                         

    I’m thirty-four days into my retirement after thirty-six and a half years in pastoral ministry. People have asked me several hundred times what I’m going to do? The answer to that is still being filled in, but I’m beginning some new endeavors.

Last week I was asked if I would be interested in being the interim pastor at a church a good drive away from where we live. My answer: “Not yet!”

What I have done so far in the first thirty-four days is spend a good deal of time with my ten month old granddaughter, learning how to change a diaper again, how to feed a baby, how to carry a baby in one of those baby carriers you wear, and finding out that going to the bathroom for someone who is watching a baby can only happen at certain times…so shake a leg quickly!

I’ve also officiated several basketball games for youth leagues. That experience has brought me into contact with some good coaches, and other coaches that I wouldn’t let my grandkids get close to. Last Sunday afternoon a minute and a half into one of the games I officiated I stopped the game and had a little “Come to Jesus” session with one of the coaches. He got the message that the fear of God was close at hand, and didn’t say another word to me for that game except to call time-out.

I’ve visited four different churches on Sundays and enjoyed the different experiences. More than that, I’ve had four Saturday nights where I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say in the Sunday sermon.

But perhaps my most adventurous new exploration is that I’m beginning a new career as a substitute teacher. What!!!!

Tomorrow I’ll go to observe in a classroom for the second time. The first time I observed in a couple of high school classes. Tomorrow I will observe in a couple of middle school math classes. One of them is Algebra. Maybe I’ll learn something, because it really didn’t stick the first time around when I took it…46 years ago!

In essence, I am a sixty one year old rookie. I face the unknown with excitement and hesitation. I remember how we treated substitute teachers back in the day. I’m sure we drove some of them to positions of employment with the elderly! We were insensitive brats trying to get anyway with anything we could. My fear is that I’ll encounter the great-great grandchildren of a couple of those teachers who know the criminal history of my high school days with their ancestors.

In my defense…I have no defense. It is just what we did.

My hope that the sins of my past school behavior will not come back to haunt be is rooted in the fact that I am already a coach at the two schools I will substitute at. But I also recognize that I am an old rookie who may be a bit gullible. When that first student says that “a + b= z”, I’ll say “Sounds good to me!” When that first spit wad zings past my head I’m not sure how I will react. When chalk dust is put on my chair and I sit down in it with my dark pants on I may become disoriented and bright red in the face.

You may be saying, “Those things will never happen!” I hope you’re right, because those are things that I did to substitute teachers when I was in school. The sins of the past…

I just want to get past the first day. Last week at a basketball game I was coaching, my wife heard someone from the other team say “Their coach is chill!” I’m not sure what that means, but she said it was a compliment.

I hope I am chill in the classroom the day when I get the 5:45 A.M. call. I can hear it now, “You have a substitute position today in…middle school Latin.”

Oh great! I’m going to teach a subject I flunked!