New math and old math

Anyone who has chuckled over the various versions of the “you have two cows” political system paradigm will enjoy this math paradigm.

Teaching Math in 1950:A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?…..

Teaching Math in 1960:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math in 1970:

A logger exchanges a set “L” of lumber for a set “M” of money. The cardinality of set “M” is 100. Each element is worth one dollar. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set “M.” The set “C,” the cost of production contains 20 fewer points than set “M.” Represent the set “C” as subset of set “M” and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set “P” of profits?

Teaching Math in 1980:

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.


Teaching Math in 2010:

El hachero vende un camion cargado de lena por $100. Su gasto de produccion es……..

Of course the temptation is always to personalize something like this, and I have to admit that I did learn math with the 1970’s system. That’s actually pretty close–hee, hee, it’s a great parody.  Now that I am myself a teacher, must also admit that I use the 2010 method with my students.  Pero mis estudiantes son los madres de los que estudian matematica. Their children speak perfectly fluent English and often help their parents translate.

(via Arul John‘s joke pages )

Taking profanity out of public schools

A few years ago one of my neighbors took early retirement from the public school system. It was being offered along with the new union contract as part of a one-time cost saving move. She wanted more time to take care of her aging father, a quiet gentleman with old-fashioned manners who moved slowly around a darkened house filled with Victorian-era furnishings. She also expressed relief at not having to be subjected to what she described as a daily barage of the most vulgar and offensive profanity imaginable issuing from the lips of school children. Teachers and other school employees were routinely cursed out by the children, she explained, because her spineless principal was afraid to take a stand against profanity.

Not so in the school where several “no profanity” signs like this were spotted.

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Chicago’s increasing violence–the latest “white alert” lockdown in a south side school

Up until now, all I knew about school violence was from reports in the newspaper. Today, while at a meeting in a school building, an announcement came over the PA system that we were in a Code White. All the doors were to be locked and no one was to leave.

I visit schools fairly often, and lately have noticed signs of increasing security. Visitor passes. Notices about color code alerts. Police presentations to parent groups about gang activity. Doors locked where they weren’t locked before.

And lately, in this area at least, violence seems to be especially targeting schools. So far this year, 20 school children have been killed in gun violence. In April alone, threats have been received at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia, South Suburban College in South Holland, St. Xavier University in Morgan Park, (prompting more school closings for the surrounding Mother McAuley High School, Brother Rice High School, Queen of Martyrs Elementary School and Evergreen Park Southwest Elementary), Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Malcolm X College on the West Side, and St. Charles North High School in the western suburbs.

All of this is taking place against the backdrop of shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999, Virginia Tech in April of last year, and the five deaths last month at Northern Illinois University.

Our group was eventually permitted to leave the building under escort, but not without some worrisome moments. Some of our group still had pre-school children in a daycare area of the school who continued to be held in lockdown.

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Judge orders ESL classes

Here’s one idea for boosting enrollment at your local community college:

A judge known for creative sentencing has ordered three Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail. The men, who faced prison for criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, can remain on parole if they learn to read and write English, earn their GEDs and get full-time jobs…

“Do you think we are going to supply you with a translator all of your life?” the judge asked them.

The four, ranging in age from 17 to 22, were in a group that police said accosted two men on a street in May. The two said they were asked if they had marijuana, told to empty their pockets, struck on the head, threatened with a gun and told to stay off the block.

How would you like these students in your class, though?

Keeping children quiet in the classroom

Two of my adult classes are at elementary schools. Some of the moms bring their pre-schoolers to class. It is always a challenge to keep them quiet enough to have an effective class. If the moms aren’t watching them, they disturb the class. If the moms are watching them, they keep the moms from paying attention to the lesson. In spite of the challenges, my students are quite motivated and they persevere.

I have been told I can not be responsible and the parents must be responsible for the children, yet, I seem to be the only one who is capable and willing to decide that a particular activity–like one child bonking another over the head with a plastic bottle–must be stopped, or that the noise threshold has been exceeded and must be scaled back before I lose my voice. Not having children of my own makes it harder, I imagine, to make judgments. Still, I have discovered some of the things that work or don’t work.

Doesn’t work:

  • Stickers. If children have access to stickers, you will be cleaning them off of chairs, tables, the floor, and places you didn’t know your classroom had places.
  • Foods with sugar. Show me a kid with Froot Loops in front of them and I’ll show you a kid bouncing off the ceiling.
  • Play Dough. One day I brought four colors of play dough. By the end of the class there was one color–gray. They also managed to get play dough in the caps of the colored markers.
  • Coloring books. This actually worked for a while. I bought four coloring books at the dollar store. Then one day all the coloring books disappeared during the class and never turned up again. Pages can be torn out one by one so each child can have one to color. They can take it home, or give it to teacher to staple to the bulletin board at the end of class.
  • Toys that beep. Do I need to explain this one? Yes, parents bring toys that beep into the classroom. Don’t get me started on the subject of cellphones.


  • Crayons. One classroom has a bucket of crayons (ice cream size bucket) that the kids are pretty good at sharing. Some other crayons from the dollar store (made in China) didn’t color and weren’t worth the money.
  • Individually xeroxed pictures to color. The coloring book doesn’t disappear because it’s at home so you can make more copies. The kids don’t have a lot of choices, they can choose one picture or two or both to color. The adults don’t have to spend time helping them choose and tearing a page out of a book.
  • Cards. I had some with Care Bears and the alphabet. They got colored on a bit but were still a big favorite. Maybe good for a half hour.
  • Videos. If you have access to a VCR you can play a cartoon with the volume off. Requires someone to bring the tapes and someone to take time away from the class to play it. This one didn’t last too long.
  • Food without obvious sugar. Parents in one school have access to the kitchen and sometimes bring fresh milk and snacks. It’s hard for kids to sit for so long without eating.
  • A small table in the back of the room for activities. Sometimes two or three kids can play quietly for a long time at the table. It helps if the table is positioned so the children sit facing away from the class.

If you can only do one thing, get a bucket of crayons and some scratch paper, or several xeroxed copies of two or three pages from a coloring book.

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No, you may NOT hit a child in my classroom.

I thought I had seen everything in my classroom. We are far away from the main campus, so we can pretty much do what we want.  Food not allowed?  No problem in my classroom. Children not allowed? If the moms want to learn English , they have to bring the children.  Keeping them from disturbing the class requires endless patience and more than a little experimentation.  But worth it. When you educate the mother you educate the whole family.  Or so I tell them. I even have a mom that breastfeeds in the classroom.

But today there was something new.  A new student , trying to keep her small child quiet, hit him. Of course there was no question I could not keep silent about this, but I froze, and in a split second tried to remember everything I knew about dealing with this on the employment level.

There was the neighbor who told a cryptic tale about someone–a “mandated reporter”–who had reported child abuse but some unnamed dreadful thing had happened as a result, and that person would never make such a report again.  Then there was the day working in a public agency when I was sitting at my desk and suddenly became aware of one of the City’s Finest standing behind me. A co-worker had witnessed a client hitting a child and, slipping away from his desk, had gone to the administrator’s office and called the police. The mother had thought nothing of it at the time, but as the discussion progressed, it was revealed that she herself had been abused as a child and was now horrified to realize her own role in perpetuating the abuse.

So what did I actually witness in my class?  Was it abuse?  No.  It was playful, but meant to control the child’s behavior.  But why hit a child gently if they do not understand you can also hit hard? It was a pattern, and I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg without knowing how much was under the surface.

What was my own legal obligation?  This state has a law about “mandated reporters”, that is, people who are required by law to report any child abuse they witness or risk losing their jobs.  I don’t know if I am a mandated reporter, but probably not.  Children are technically not permitted in the classroom, so technically I never see children as part of my job. But there are all kinds of people running around that building who are definitely mandated reporters, and this mom would eventually run afoul of them if she didn’t figure out another way to manage her child. I could help my student understand American culture and law without appearing to make any value judgments.

A class discussion ensued where I tried to get a basic Spanish vocabulary to talk about what was going on.  What was the Spanish word for hit?  How do I explain “illegal”?  I could certainly explain the awkward situation it place me in to have something illegal go on in my classroom when children were not even permitted there in the first place.  The student had to leave early, so as she left I asked the other students to help think of ways to help her. The other students tell me hitting children is common in Mexican classrooms.  Mexican teachers will also pull the children’ hair.

But in my classroom, no one is going to hit any child, even symbolically.

Care Bears in Sudan–“Punish with Bullets”

A friend of mine once nearly triggered an international incident when he put children named Saddam and Mohammed in a wastebasket to demonstrate the preposition “in”. The administrator stuck up for him–after all, he was wearing traditional robes in the classroom–and it all blew over.

Sudan is not quite so unemotional. Knife-brandishing crowds, demonstrating, when else–on Friday–demanded a British teacher whose students named a teddy bear “Mohammed” be executed by shooting. Uh, don’t you shoot people with guns?

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