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.

Overheard From Kids

Kids Falling Behind.

My young relative’s birthday party was yesterday. I complimented her for winning a recent math competition. I told her how disappointed I was to know so many 3rd and 4th graders who don’t know what 3×4 is or the answer to 23 minus 7. She said some of her classmates don’t know their times tables and that she is worried how they will fare in math next year. She was in the 5th grade for the 2008-09 school year.

I asked, “How many kids are in your class?”


“How many don’t know their times tables?”

“About twenty.”

At this site, her school’s test scores are posted. 67% of her classmates were considered “proficient” in math two years ago. Not according to Jordan.

The future looks grim for kids.


Horses: A Constitutional Right?

Nash is in my Spring Scientific and Aeronautical Institute. She mentioned her horses in reference to the grasses whose names we are learning.

“Horses”, I observed, “are expensive to feed.” I asked how she affords to feed them.

“The fairgrounds feeds them. The fairgrounds keeps them. We live across the street from the fairgrounds.”

Greenwood Plaza stands across the street from the  fairgrounds. I assume she lives there. It is low-income housing. Resident pay as little as $30 per month toward their $600 rent.  Taxpayers pick up the balance.

I must look into this. People too poor to pay rent that have horses? Is a state program paying? Are horses a constitutional welfare right?

Schools Have ADHD

Schools cannot sit still in their chairs. They lose their focus. They are easily distracted. They are hyper and suffer from ADD and ADHD.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a book review of the book Rapt by Winifred Gallagher. It begins:

“With so many things now demanding our attention- emails, Web sites, Blackberry alerts, incoming text messages, Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, stock updates, and old-fashioned meetings and phone calls- many of us… What was I saying?”

We live in a state of inattention.  The book recommends “choosing activities “that push you so close to the edge of your competence that they demand your absolute focus.”

How could this help schools?


Dayton High School

Dayton High School


I meet with young persons helping them learn reading and math facts.  I am designed and taught an after-school science and recreation program. I teach  classes on entrepreneurship. I am a product of public education grades 1-16. Our kids went to private, public and home schools. I observe a lack of focus.

School time is too segmented. 50 minute class periods. Travel to sporting events, release time for this and that. Assemblies, fire drills. Education is an inch deep and a mile wide. How can one hope to bear down on a subject?

Administrators have to style their schools in this manner. They are yanked around by their uppers. Schools do not serve parents. They serve the National Education Association teacher’s union, the state Office of Pubic Instruction, the Montana High School Athletic Association, the legislature, the federal Department of Education, the legislature, everyone but the parents. I reviewed a proposal about “access to education” at this website. It promoted suing state legislatures for under-funding. The word parent did not appear in nine pages.

Schools are myopic, dyslexic, dis-functional, schizophrenic and hyper-active because of the myriad demands made on them by every party except the consumer of their services, the parents.

Kids will do poorly until they are expected to work diligently on a subject for longer than 15 minutes. Save our kids! Let the schools focus, spend blocks of un-interrupted time. Right now they run, run, run from one thing to another. Schools are ADHD. Free them from their masters.

Of 4-Wheelers and Free School Lunch

I met with Sasquatch, the high school sophomore, again this week. Our one-hour visits are delightful. Mainly we quiz him, and me!, on general knowledge from the glossary of terms at the end of the book Cultural Literacy. As usual, he got 55% right, a figure I do not consider too pathetic.

His sister returned from Europe. She is 12. She went with her middle school class from Chief Joseph Middle School. She was pick-pocketed in Spain, (“where even the homeless men are well-dressed”). What the thief got was her Spanish phrase book. Sweet revenge.

The trip cost $4,000.

I asked “Who paid for that?”

Their dad did. The whole $4,000.

Sasquatch got a used 4-wheeler for hunting. His dad bought it for him. It cost $2,000. It was in “sweet” condition. It had “been babied by its owner”.

Sasquatch’s mom is on welfare and he is on free school lunch. His mom finished a secondary education degree a couple of years ago.