In which my head explodes

I am deeply tempted to upload today’s entire assignment so you can see it. I thought it was going to be an easy Halloween blowoff, ten dead-simple story problems, most of which boiled down to “multiply these two numbers together,” and maybe two of which boiled down to “divide these two numbers.” Like, this is the first question:

Six spooky scary skeletons each send shivers down seven spines. How many shivers are sent?

Only 33 of the 59 students who have completed the assignment managed to figure out to multiply six and seven to get 42.

Also, I have 142 students and as of 3:15 only 59 have completed the assignment.

I don’t know how to fix middle school students who literally can’t figure out when to multiply. They actually and genuinely don’t know what the four basic operations of mathematics are for. I’ve never not had kids who were behind, but this is shockingly bad nonetheless.

One more class period today. I can do this.

(Oh, and also, one of the biggest and most obvious lies the school corporation was telling when they were talking about us returning to class was that there were somehow going to be enough subs during a pandemic, when there are never enough subs, period. There was an email every day this week begging teachers to cover for other people who were out. Today we had five teachers out. Total number of subs: zero. They just kept saying “Oh, we’ve contracted out for that,” like that was an answer that was going to matter.)

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

5 thoughts on “In which my head explodes

  1. This might be a linguistic categorisation problem to some kids. They can’t make skeletons and shivers get into the same box to create a mathematical problem (I paused several seconds over this one). I can do advanced stats now, but at school I could only do algebra and geometry. As soon as I was faced with the problem of a liner travelling at forty knots, and how many days would it take to cross seven hundred miles of ocean etc, my brain lost it. My late in life breakthrough was treating linguistic mathematical problems as recipes. You probably know all this!

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      1. It absolutely would have been, but the point is that I want them to know WHEN to use operations, not just to mechanically perform them. Knowing your multiplication facts is useless if you think that six groups of seven means you subtract six from seven and get one, as many of them did. This also falls squarely into the vastly annoying trap of assessing learning where I have difficulty discerning laziness and guessing from the kids who are genuinely clueless.

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    1. The wording is a reference to a song they’re all familiar with, so I suspect it was easier to parse than you might think. That said, one mistake I did make– I should keep myself in the habit of representing numbers as numbers when writing story problems, so “6” and not “six.” That way the initial pull-the-numbers-out phase is easier for them and then they can focus on analyzing the wording to figure out what to do. My weaker readers were probably having difficulty just locating the numbers in the first place– and, now that I think of it, I kept the alliteration there to make it sound better with the song, but that also made it easier for eyes to slide over the numbers.

      So you’re right, it’s at least partially a linguistic problem, but I think it’s a slightly different one than what you’re saying.


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