Tag: Math

It’s not them, it’s me.

We’ve been working on division in math class recently, specifically, long division…with decimals.  It’s challenging stuff, but it has also led to some surprising revelations from my fifth graders.

B., a very capable math student, was having some trouble with a technique we had been working on.  Rather than just taking a straight, long division approach to a problem like 78.6 divided by 16, we had talked about how you could break it into two smaller problems.  You might first divide 78.6 by 4, and then divide the result (19.65) by 4 again.  

It’s not really important that you follow that process right now, or that you agree with the decomposing approach.  What’s important is that you understand that we were breaking apart a problem to make it simpler.  What’s also important is that you hear how B. responded to this challenge.

He was scratching his head and looking, with a scrunched up face, at the upside down tree formations on his workbook page.  I approached and asked if he needed some help.  He’s usually very independent.

“Yeah,” he replied, perhaps too loudly, “I’m just not very good at breaking up.”

L. happened to be listening in. “What did you just say?!” 

B., realizing his slip up, blushed slightly and tried to correct himself.  “I didn’t mean breaking up.  Why do I always say that?”

I felt the need to come to his aid.  “Well, B., you know, breaking up is hard to do.”

This got a snort from L.  and a groan from B.  I was pleased with the response, not really thinking that it would appeal to the average fifth grader, so I continued, mostly for my own amusement,  “Have you tried saying to the problem, ‘It’s not you, it’s me?’  I’ve heard that sometimes that helps.”

Another snort from L.   Another groan from B.  This was going well, but I was pretty sure I was not helping him with his math.  Nor was I helping the atmosphere in the room.  L. was now repeating the exchange to his other neighbor, N.  Unfortunately, he reversed the sage advice, making it perhaps more realistic, but far less gentle:  “And then Mr. v said, ‘You could say, ‘It’s not me, it’s you.’”   

N. pointed out that he was pretty sure this was NOT the correct way to let someone down easy.  Now HE was guffawing, L. was snorting into his mask, and B. continued to groan, realizing that this moment would likely live on, with MANY retellings, as that is the way with jokes in fifth grade.  

It’s often at these moments that I feel the need to admonish my class, telling them that they really need to concentrate more on their math and that they really should stop cracking jokes.  This is serious and requires their full attention. The hypocrisy of this is not lost on L., N. or B., of course.  

“I think you started it,” B. notes.  True.  I decide to extricate myself from that corner of the classroom.  I shuffle away, mumbling under my breath, “Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan…”

I had so much more material.

Permission to Flee

This weekend I finished reading Permission to Feel, by Marc Brackett.  I loved the book, and though I’ve seen Marc speak on three occasions, I now feel like I’m finally getting the idea of how I might make his RULER ideas work in my classroom and in my life. It is true, I believe, that if we don’t pay attention to our emotional needs, we will not be in a position to do our best thinking and learning. SEL is not a frill. It’s an essential part of our educational work. That’s not what I’m going to write about today, though.

This morning I went into school to try to do something constructive in my classroom.  I don’t know how my room will be configured or populated.  I don’t know whether I will be alone in my classroom, allowed in my classroom, or crowded in my classroom.  I unpacked the things that I’d ordered, not knowing whether all of those things will be stored in bins, distributed only to individuals, or never be shared.  But that’s not what I’m going to write about today.

I didn’t stay long in my classroom, because the air conditioning in our school is under repair.  The fans work, so a pleasant 100-degree breeze wafted through my classroom.  I worked up a good sweat thinning the “writing” drawer in my file cabinet.  I was able to toss a hefty stack of papers that I hadn’t laid eyes on in over five years.  That seemed like a sign that I could jettison them.  But that’s not what I’m going to write about today.

I rushed home, because the most spoiled dog in the world was spending some of his first daytime hours in his crate.  My wife had gone to work AND I had gone to work.  I know, crazy, right?  Farley willingly sleeps in his crate at night, but he has been blissfully unaware that some dogs get left at home during the day while their family goes to other locations for work.  Strange.  Among the small-deal things that I have managed to grow anxious about is the image of a very distressed puppy rattling around in a crate all day, wondering what the heck happened to his dog-centered world.  It actually looks like my wife will be working from home, and it’s even possible that I might as well, so Farley’s charmed existence may extend through the year.  I returned home to find him calmly reclining in his crate, his head resting on the side bars.  But that is not what I’m going to write about today.

I mowed the lawn, having waited strategically for the hottest portion of the day.  While mowing, I noted an abundance of weeds in the front yard.  The only weed killers we employ these days are my left and right hands, so I followed my lawn mowing experience with a satisfying weeding session.  But that’s not what I’m going to write about today.

I returned to the much cooler house and decided to scan the “anchor task” pages from our new math textbook.   There were seven chapters in Book A, and an average of 12 tasks in each chapter.  I’ve gotten fairly quick at using the notes app on my phone to scan and crop many pages.  Having these scans may or may not prove useful in the event of either in-school or remote learning. This may or may not have relieved some of my August anxiety.  But that’s not what I’m going to write about today.

No, today I sat down at my computer with the best of intentions. After a busy day of activities that had questionable value, I would now compose my weekly slice of life. I was not, however, sure about my topic. I thought again about Marc Brackett’s book.  He had noted repeatedly that we need to become better at recognizing and understanding our own emotions and emotional needs.  With that in mind, I wondered if, instead of writing a slice of life story merely to keep up with my Tuesday routine, I might better support my own emotional needs by escaping from my computer and office chair and relocating to the couch. There, I might slouch in front of the TV and watch my favorite hockey team playing its first playoff game.   After a quick check in with my mood meter app, I noted that this prospect led to feelings that I might label as Energized or even Elated. I decided to do just that.

 We regret to inform you that the remainder of this slice has been postponed on account of hockey. I have given myself permission to flee.

Sad note:  The Caps lost in overtime.

Current feelings: temporarily disappointed yet still irrationally optimistic.