Thursday, March 31, 2011

English Teacher Math

My students are smarter than me.

Or is it "than I"?  I think I've made my point.

This is not a self-deprecating post, as I believe I am a reasonably intelligent person. Smart, even. It just so happens that I spend a pretty significant portion of my life with students who are, quite literally, geniuses. Case in point: one of my students from last year is one of only 588 people out of 1.6 million who scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. That's not about me. I didn't teach him that. He's just incredibly, amazingly smart. He's a great kid, too, so that makes it even better. I'm so in awe that I think I've bragged on him to everyone I know.

Nope. This isn't a "poor me" post. It's simply another time that I made a fool of myself in front of a room full of people.

As I introduced the research paper to one of my classes, I reviewed the rubric with them carefully. I attempted to point out that at least half of the points on this particular paper come from following directions, and that I've taught the research process upwards of 30 times, and if they stick with me and follow my plan they'll have a great grade and be really good at research papers. In fact, I told them, the research paper grades are usually the best essay grades all year. I was selling this project like no other.

Then came to the part about the way the points add up.

I explained it this way: The rubric adds up to 200 points, and the paper is for two major grades. But the computer likes grades on a scale of 100, so to get your score I will add up the points on the rubric, divide by half (to get to the 100 point scale), and then enter the grade twice. It made perfect sense to me.

Unfortunately, my explanation was met with confused stares, and then a few brave souls raised their hands.

"That doesn't make sense," one girl said, "If you divide by half the math doesn't work. Is that what you meant?"

The confused faces turned to me, waiting for my response to the question that was obviously on all of their minds. But I could only respond by returning their confusion.

I explained the whole thing again, but I guess I talked slower or something in an attempt to have it make more sense. Finally, when the heads continued to shake and the confusion became too much for me to bear, I just said, "Trust me. It all works out mathematically."

Confusion turned to suspicion, until someone eventually said (slightly under his breath), "Maybe that's why the research paper grades are always the highest."

The room erupted in laughter, including mine, and we moved on. Only I didn't get the joke. I didn't know why they were so confused. I didn't even really know what was going on. I had a feeling, however, that it was my fault.

Five minutes after the bell, I walked to the water fountain and it hit me. After I add the 200 possible points, I need to multiply by half or divide in half, not "divide by half" as I said over and over and over again. I knew what I meant, but it was quite obviously not what I said.

And the Crazy English Teachers Can't Do Math stereotype lives on.

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