Math Coach

First Day As Coach

I teach 6 kids for one hour per week. They are eager for math skills. They leave their classroom and we are to work on learning math strategies and gain ability in solving math problems. They are considered more capable, more willing to learn, more susceptible.

Yesterday was my first day. The six kids are, using fictional names:

Galatea, Azure, Kismet, Clara, Quizno, Dyson.

I think I shall excuse Kismet for next week’s session. She resisted rules about walking around, fiddling with the thermostat, speaking out of turn, keeping her feet on the floor and not saying snotty things to the coach.

I told them that I was an unpaid volunteer and that my only pay was watching them increase in skill and that if they were not well-behaved, I would not like doing it and would not continue. I told them that I loved this kind of mental games and that Around the World was one of my favorite things in shcol, and that mental math really helps me in my life and I am anxious for them to get it.

I told them that I have found that the best way to enforce discipline and make kids serious about order and rules and productivity was to kick out a kid the first day of the class. (I did that in JA a few weeks ago and it really helped make others more aware.) Holy Mackerell, you should have seen the six of them straighten up in their chairs and quit fidgeting and put their feet on the floor. They heard that! Things quickly reverted, though. They are brimming with enthusiasm.

I told them that the rules were not to speak out of turn, to wait to be acknowledged, to keep feet on the floor, to not throw things, even at the garbage can. At this age, testing limits seems to be highly likely. Instantly, even Galatea, one of the more demure, was crossing her leg, thus leaving one foot off the floor. Soon the others followed in various postures. It was funny to me. Kismet, after several corrections, grabbed both her knees with her arms and suspended both feet off the floor. She was in direct defiance. Clara kept folding her leg under her on the chair. I kept correcting her, though her posture was not defiant, simply habit. I probably don’t need this rule. What I mean is that I don’t want them putting their feet on the furniture. I also don’t want them rocking back in their chairs. Enforcing speaking out of turn is going to be hard.

As we went to the portable building, kids were anxious to show me around. We were locked out. I sent Kismet to get the key. We went into the cold. They could not unlock the door easily. They tried the other door. It was a delicious dilemma, like Boxcar Children making their way in the world. They got cold. Finally they found that they had to turn the key 360-plus degrees to unlock.

The room was cluttered. It is not conducive. I’ll have to rearrange it next time and bring my own white board pen. Music stands were piled up everywhere. Using music stands for their desks was far from ideal.

What worked: Around the World, using a series of mental math computations. The only problem with that is that one, Quizno, will outshine all the others and win all the time. I can put him on a team and pit teams against each other, with individuals providing the answers.

They really wanted to solve the “who-is-where” problem using chips of pieces of paper arranged until they found the solution. We’ll do that next time.

I taught the 4 step problem solving sequence. Know the problem. Choose a strategy. Solve the problem. Check. Go back if needed. They thought about that.

Then I taught two strategies: Draw a picture. …

Then I gave them 4 problems to solve. They did not get even the first one. A cake is 16”x10”. How many 2”x2” pieces of cake are in the cake? They spent 10 minutes on it.

Then, in closing, I taught the Rule of 72 and we tested whether a 1795 penny that sold at auction the other day for $1.3 million would have been better put in the stock market at 12% and experiencing 36 doublings. (At 12% it grows to $640 million.) 4th graders seem much less interested in millions of dollars than high school juniors.

They tackled the four problems with gusto. I need to center the bulk of the time on them.

I will prepare handouts for future times with websites for best math puzzles and practice sites to increase their skills at mental math, if they want to increase their speed for Around The World.

They liked the joke about the Aborigine who claimed that 2+2=5. They said they like jokes.

I have to remember they are not 6th graders and not high school students.

When we did introductions, both boys mentioned that they liked riding their bike. Clara likes ice hockey. Most kids could not fill up a minute with their introduction. One girl proudly stated that she was “Polish”, Azure. She and Galatea professed that one of the things they liked most was “being with that girl”, pointing to Azure, with Azure returning the claim. When I introduced myself and showed a wallet picture of my family, they leapt from their seats and crowded around. Introductions were interesting to them.

Getting to 17%

Getting to 17%

President Obama flies to Copenhagen. He will promise that by 2020, US carbon emissions will be lower by 17%. How will he do it? How will he force us to do it?

Surely he will not order damming every available river, easing siting regulations for nuclear power plants, or allowing drilling for oil and natural gas on federal lands. He will probably employ such things as cap and trade, restrictions on electrical appliances and CAFÉ standards.

Carbon emissions are directly correlated to energy consumption which is directly correlated to numbers of people. Reducing the number of people could be a key. Or, if the number of people is not reduced, energy consumed by each could be reduced. Below are specifics.

  • Obama could sterilize people of childbearing age, first by 17%, then eventually by 83%, which is the energy consumption/ carbon emission reduction goal by 2050.
  • Obama and the Secretary of HHS could use death panels to reduce the population by 17%.
  • Obama Motors could install a shut-off device that would activate upon the car reaching 9,960 miles, (12,000- 17%), in any 12 month period. This would eliminate 17% of the miles driven, accomplishing the national goal, at least in regards to consumer auto travel.
  • Obama could issue permits for vacation travel, business travel, commuting travel and household daily travel. Limit the permits to accomplish the 17% reduction.
  • Obama could order a national speed limit of 30 mph. It is hard to calculate how much this would reduce carbon emissions. It would be non-negligible.
  • Obama could require 17% of households to live without heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. Households could be assigned a certain month, with the burden being passed around periodically. Or California and New York could be chosen. They represent about 17% of the nation.
  • Obama could nationalize, then shut down, 17% of the airlines or airline flights.

Jonathan Swift, author of A Modest Proposal, would smile.

Navigating Right and Wrong

Navigating Right and Wrong

By Daniel E. Lee

Read Dec 2-3, 2009

Lee acknowledges human finiteness and human infinite worth. This is a true, delicious irony.

He rejects reason as ground point for obligation, saying that the only way to ground value claims is “in the confessions of faith that give form to our lives.” This is bald relativism. Strangely, he holds human dignity as inviolable. Thus, he is double-minded.

His section of Charity, on page 107, is good, uplifting. He points out that the giver of charity finds help in the helping. “I thought I was helping Margaret, but it is amazing how much she has been helping me!” (A student visits a nursing home resident.) The pay-off is immediate. Is selfish charity, charity? Our charity needs to be even more out-directed than that.

He pleads for better listening skills, more understanding. His hope for achieving moral community based on listening is hopeless. Solid ground would be so much better.

He is no logician, no philosopher.

He values humility and introspection, fine things.

I liked his examples, his breezy manner of writing.

I was reminded not to criticize or ridicule.

The Greatest Human Need

The Greatest Human Need

What we crave more than anything is to be understood and esteemed.

We see this confirmed in:

  • War between nations- wars often start because national dignity has been wounded
  • Troubles and bliss-even sexual bliss- of marriage
  • Office squabbles
  • Friendship and its termination
  • Relationship with God
  • Controversy about gay marriage- a demand for esteem.

Human dignity is paramount. Each person seeking to assert and maintain individual dignity leads to either the warmest bonds or the bitterest splits.

When we set out to be charitable, the kindest thing we can do is not to throw paper currency at beggars, but to understand their need and fill it, help them fill it, or teach them how to fill it, while acknowledging their infinite worth as a human being, a child of God.

The kindest gift to an elderly person is time, remembering good times together, expressing gratitude for the lessons they imparted, recalling experiences. Sending a blanket pales in contrast.

We are kind, in a primary way, by simply smiling and greeting another, by name, if possible. A higher way is to give a gift that reflects their talent, interest or current need. The highest way of kindness is to teach others what they really need to know, to share part of your vulnerable feelings with them, your insecurity, your guilt, your aspiration, that is, to open your heart, trusting in their gentleness. Then we can receive their most vulnerable expressions and treat them gently.

We can do this sexually. We do it confessing to God. We do it in friendship and in charitable visiting, (two species of the same thing.)

Understanding, oh how rare, how prized!