Category Archives: Stories

But are we learning?

A couple of days ago, one of my students asked me if I was going to stay up that night to see Mars. It was news to me that Mars was doing anything special, but I didn’t ask him to clarify. I just explained that no, I was not going to stay up late to see anything. I was going to get some sleep, because “I am a much nicer person when I’ve had a decent amount of sleep. Trust me, you want me to get some sleep.” Another student asked me if that’s why I’ve been so nice to them lately. Continue reading

Word Problems

I’m teaching a new class for our school this year – Financial Literacy. It’s a course for seniors who are not interested in (or we didn’t think they should be taking) AP Stats or Pre-Calc, which are our only other options for senior math. (And AP Calc, of course, but since the pre-req for that is Pre-Calc…you get the idea.)


I probably should mention that I got sick over the weekend and am still suffering the effects of a pretty nasty cold including, but not limited to: headache, congestion, sore throat, coughing, scratchy voice, more congestion, exhaustion, general feeling of crappiness. My writing is going to make about as much sense tonight as my speaking did today – not much. But I have a story to tell. So I’m going to.

Ahem. Where was I? Teaching a new class this year…right, so I didn’t get very far. Tangents, right?!

So I’m teaching Financial Literacy. We’ve learned how checking and savings accounts work, how to balance a checkbook, and how to calculate simple and compound interest so far. Yes, I should admit I didn’t do a great job teaching balancing a checkbook, and I will do better next year. Next, we’ll be learning about how to get a job, how to read a pay stub, and other employment-related things. We’ll be learning about credit cards and loans this semester, and buying a car. It’s actually a really cool class and I’m very excited to be teaching it. Everything we do is a real-life application. Every single concept we’re teaching is something they will need to know next year when they finish high school. Every single problem is a real-life application problem.

What’s the downside (from a student point of view)? Every single problem is a word problem. Continue reading

The Smoke

On Friday afternoon, I asked one of my mentors to observe my last-period class and give me some advice on getting them to shut up managing their talkativeness. We were talking about the Distributive Property to prepare them for the lesson I’ll be teaching on Monday, and I asked them a question. Because I’m a teacher, and that’s what I do. I ask lots of questions.

Anyway, I asked them a question, and I don’t even remember what the question was. That’s not important. They were really struggling with the question (whatever it was), and I was getting a lot of blank stares and confused looks.

I see this a lot in math at the secondary (middle and high school) level. The students have been trained to think that math is hard, and therefore any question must require a lot of thought to answer. Or they think it’s not even worth trying, because they’ll never get the answer. One of my mantras in my classes is “Don’t over-think this, guys!” I probably should have that posted on my wall along with the Rules of Math that I blatantly stole from Mathy McMatherson. (Thanks, Mr. Schneider!)

So as they sat there looking confused, I said, “Ok, you guys are majorly over-thinking this. I can tell because there’s smoke coming off your heads.”

And about 10 high school boys immediately looked up to see the smoke.