Category Archives: unfinished work

Helping Kids to ‘Get It’

Sometimes I wonder about the people who write and edit textbooks. I may not be a math wizard, but I know a heck of a lot about gardening. So when I came across this word-problem in the Saxon math series several days ago, the gardener in me cried out in dismay. Whoever wrote this problem knows nothing about carrots or how to grow them:

Choose an appropriate problem-solving strategy to solve this problem. In his backyard garden, Randall planted three rows of carrots. He planted eight carrots in each row. Altogether, how many carrots did Randall plant? Explain how you arrived at your answer.

Suburban gardeners usually drive to the local plant store, buy a six-pack of tomatoes or bell peppers and then take them home to transplant them. If you want to plant eight tomatoes or eight bell peppers in a row, you can do that (assuming that you’ve bought at least two six-packs). Just dig a hole, put some compost in the bottom, set the plant in the hole (roots at the bottom of the hole, of course), fill in around the roots with soil, and then water generously.

Not so with carrots. You can’t transplant carrots, as the Saxon math word-problem suggests. You have to grow carrots from seeds. And the seeds are so small that unless you use tweezers, you’ll find it impossible to plant only eight seeds per row. The usual practice is to sprinkle the seeds as thinly as possible in a shallow trench, and then cover them with a light layer of soil, well firmed down.

After the seeds germinate (which can take up to two or three weeks, depending on weather and soil conditions), and when they’re about an inch or two tall, you have to thin them. That’s right, you have to yank perfectly healthy plants out of the soil and toss them aside, because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a severe case of carrot-crowding, which will result in no root growth—and nothing edible to show for your labors.

Not only do the Saxon math writers and editors know nothing about how to plant and grow carrots, but they also make erroneous assumptions about the extent of student knowledge. Consider this word problem:

Lucille had 4 marigolds. Lola gave her some more marigolds. Now Lola has 12 marigolds. How many marigolds did Lola give Lucille?

My students had no trouble doing the math. Most of them figured out pretty quickly that Lola gave Lucille 8 marigolds.

But what exactly are marigolds?

Not one of my students could tell me. Not one!

I seized the moment, of course, as any decent teacher would, and explained that marigolds are flowers. Then I moved on.

I should have stopped, gone to Google Images and pulled up some photos of marigolds. (We all know that aphorism comparing one picture to a thousand words.) I’ll do that tomorrow.

There’s nothing wrong with revisiting a lesson or re-teaching a concept. In fact, that’s one of the beauties of Saxon math: As new concepts are introduced, old ones are continually revisited.

I want to do whatever it takes to help my students to “get it.” It’s time to revisit the concept of marigolds as flowers—and show my students, using some online photos, just how captivating these beauties can be.

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A New Year Begins

I’ve spent the last two days on the road, driving back to the school where I taught last year. (No, I didn’t get a last-minute reprieve from another district in the form of a job offer. That means, I guess, that my work here isn’t finished yet.)

Tomorrow is a district-wide orientation (which, for some reason, I just can’t get excited about).

Thursday and Friday we get to work in our classrooms (I hope).

Monday we welcome the students for another year of learning (or cajoling them to learn, as the case may be).

Summer went by much too quickly. It was good while it lasted—but it didn’t last long enough!

For all of my teacher-friends who are still enjoying time off: Don’t even think about going back to your classroom. The time will come soon enough. Savor your hours of reading or traveling or napping. You deserve them!

Not Finished Yet

During the week-long break between the end of the regular school year and the beginning of summer school, I reconnected with my family. When I returned to the remote location where I teach Sunday afternoon, I said to myself, “I don’t know how I ended up at this school. All I know is that my work here isn’t finished yet.”

Monday I found out that my principal is probably not coming back after her contract expires at the end of the month. I wasn’t terribly happy to hear the news.

During a sleepless interlude in the middle of the night, it seemed at though I heard a voice saying, “The principal’s work here may be finished, but yours is not.”

So, despite my anxiety about the possibility of having to work with a new principal next year, I’m staying at this school.

My work here isn’t finished yet.