Monday, August 8, 2011

The Commoners Learn Calculus


Well I warned you that the commoners were going to a math workshop.  A one week long-bang your head against the wall because you are doing calculus –math workshop.  Now there are a lot of things about the workshop that are actually not bad.  You know I’m famous for my honesty-I say what you are thinking-so to be honest the best part is we are paid $1,000 dollars for the week.  Another good thing is that they feed you great breakfasts and great, outstanding lunches.  Finally the guy who runs this grant is hilarious-he’s a lot like Kristen and myself-but looks like Fred Flintstone-he’s also a revolutionary math genius and inspirational.

People love this guy and teachers all want to be the teacher’s pet (except us-we just wanted to survive the week without being called up to do a problem for the class-Holy Trinity alum does this sound familiar at all?)  People bought him food and cakes, jams and jellies, and someone even made him a quilt.  Would I lie?  I wouldn’t lie.
I was the one whining and complaining as usual because I didn’t want to go.  I had just finished 4 weeks of summer school and I don’t like calculus and really wasn’t all that sure that all this hocus pocus really made a difference.  I’m also the one in class anywhere who doesn’t always pay attention, talks too much, walks around the room getting coffee, and playing with my phone.  Yes –I’m that person.  And my attitude going in quite frankly sucked.  But I’m very competitive and couldn’t even consider having other third grade teachers get a leg up on me and then there was the 1000 dollars.  And truthfully?  I love the food.


Last year I made the mistake of sitting in the front of the room.  Now from my many years of catholic school I know this-you never sit in the front of the room.  But teachers actually like this and my friends chose to sit in the front of the room.  This caused Dr. Phil to be looking over my shoulder and seeing that just like in high school-I wasn’t actually doing the calculus problems.  So this year we sat in the middle by the door.  Where does Dr. Phil chose to address the room from?  Where you ask?  No not the front from a podium; no not the back where he could see everyone.  You guessed it –he stood right behind me right over my shoulder!


Dr. Phil not only stood over my shoulder-he stood over my shoulder and berated the whole group about general lack of effort and threats about coming in and taking over your classroom (please come take over my classroom master sir!).  It was horrible and did nothing to enhance my mood or general affection for what this week had in store.  Plus as everyone is looking at Dr. Phil they are really looking at me-because who wanted to make eye contact with a pissed off Fred Flintstone-no one.

Well then we were given our first assessment.  You take one on the first day and you take the same one on the last day.  You don’t put your name on it, just a 4 digit number of your choice.  I never pick my social security number because I figure they expect you to do that and can track you-I may not know calculus but I’m wise to the ways of the world.  Some of them are review and some of them are new-you’re supposed to get the reviewed ones right and then take a survey at the end.  Let me reiterate-they don’t know who you are.  So I breeze through not straining my brain too much-no problem for me.  Commoner Lesli is so caught up in every detail of every question and every survey question.  Lesli we tell her it doesn’t matter if you put down 10 or 15 hours of professional development-THEY DON”T KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!! But she’s the do gooder of us-it was all important.  So was getting every question correct and praising her math coach to everyone she saw.  We had to rein her in a few times-but she pulled herself out of that funk the next day.


This year I found myself not really doing any of the problems presented (except percentages-I can do percentages of any number in 5 seconds in my head because I love to shop).  I watched him work out the problems and kind of got them or not.  Rosa however not only worked out every problem she talked the whole time.  Sometimes about math sometimes about me -I know this because that is when she would talk Spanish to her friends-I would always say “Stop talking about me!” My grandparents would speak Italian when they were talking about me so therefore anyone who speaks another language in front of me is talking about me-right?  It’s good she took those notes though because we had a test at the end and I would have failed-or my code number would have…


So the week went on and the commoners sat through hour after hour of math.  It must have been Wednesday when we looked over only to notice that there was a woman at the table next to us who was sitting on a big red ball.  One of those balls you might use in the gym to tighten your abs.  Or one of those hoppers you may have had as a child.  And she bounced hour after hour day after day.  And when Dr. Phil would come over to our side to stand behind me-she would jump faster and faster.  We were all getting nauseous.  It was stupid.  See that- I said stupid.  Even our instructor was just a little tired of it; we caught him fake popping it!


Kristen became know to Dr. Phil as Damm Good Water.  He didn’t know her name and that’s what he called her by because last year she bought him a case of her brother’s water that he makes.  Well one day Damm Good Water bought us all produce from her own garden.  Beautiful summer squash for some of us and a huge, biggest I’ve ever seen zucchini for our friend Gabi.  We didn’t have to deal with Dr. Phil all day-all we had to do was wave the giant zucchini around and he shot out into the other direction toward the bouncing ball.  I have no idea why-maybe an allergy to zucchini?  Not sure.

My favorite aspect is the terminology.  I swear this guy makes up these words.  Decomposition is the practice of breaking down numbers so that you can eliminate them from equations.  I think of it as dead bodies rotting.  We spent a day working on mitigation.  Mitigation is the practice of taking an assessment and taking each wrong answer and explaining or showing an example of why the student made the mistake.  Mitigation sounds like what to you-does it sound like litigation?  Math is hard enough-I don’t need to feel like my body is rotting or I’m being sued-it doesn’t help me.

Last year I spent the whole week trying to learn proper syntax. Syntax is how your problem should look and it doesn’t look like the way the nuns taught me in school.  This was hard for me because I could hear the nuns yelling at me for putting my equal signs in the wrong place.  I’m getting better really at the fact that  there are many ways to do one math problem .  It’s all progress. 

But we got through the week and we really did great.  I gained 4 pounds.  Damm Good Water got a lot of publicity for her brothers and Rosa is ready to teach fifth grade.  I love the new math.  Let’s get at the new year and raise those test scores!  Zucchini any one? Bouncing balls?