Back to School, Take 32

I recently decided to stay in the classroom until I’m at least 59, instead of retiring at the first opportunity a year from December. I’m hearing rumblings that the economy is about to tank, and that’s probably not the best time to rely on doing school visits with Solution Squad.

My decision to postpone my retirement has made me a much happier and better teacher, beginning my 32nd year. I really do have a dream job, exploring mathematics using whatever context strikes me that day. My poor kids’ heads just about exploded today when I asked them how many days old they were. Heck, we had to have a five-minute discussion about how we defined what a day was! The most common answer was, “Twenty-four hours.” Then I had to correct some misconceptions that the sun orbited the Earth. I said that Galileo had to do some time over that idea, and that we should probably at least agree on heliocentrism (“This ain’t science class, Mr. McClain!”).

We finally got to the right definition, though it took some coaxing in a few classes. Oh, we have a ways to go, though. I had kids telling me that they were 50,000 days old. Only if you’re 137 years old, kid. Two thousand? Maybe your younger brother or sister. No estimation, no checking work, no checking to see if the answer is reasonable, and one quitter. “I quit” is not acceptable in my class. I simply point to this poster in the front of the room:

I see a lot of potential here, though. And already today, a kid who I could tell doesn’t normally shine got the spotlight.

There were a couple of really interesting approaches. One kid decided to count how many Januaries he’d seen. And he multiplied that number by 31. As soon as he hit February, though, that confounding question came up, as I asked him, a little too loudly (on purpose): “Does February always have 28 days?” Then the groans began as 20 kids suddenly realized their answers were wrong because they hadn’t considered leap years.
A paper got wadded up and tossed. I questioned, “Why on Earth would you start over when you have 90% of the work done, and correctly?”

“I got mad.”

“Well, good. At least I know you cared. But let’s not start over again unless you have to, okay?”

This building of rapport and trust in the early days is critical to teaching success. They have to know you care, and they have to see you as a person. We’re not going to sit around singing anytime soon, but they’re not going to fear being wrong in my class. Not today, and not ever.

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