Thursday, November 2, 2017

My First Learning Buddy Assignment

"If 1 chicken can lay 3 eggs in 4 days, how many eggs can 3 chickens lay in 8 days?"

The week after my training I received a forwarded email. "Do you know a retired engineer or someone who enjoys math?", "4 very nice boys in my new class who are high-achievers in math" and "I could use a volunteer who would be interested or available to work with them on fun, challenging, multiple-step Continental Math League problems." My friend just sent it along. It was an email the coordinator had sent to established volunteers.

"Of course I sent it," my friend said. "I just wanted to make sure you saw it. You'd be perfect."

There was his eternal optimism again, his compliments.

"I didn't get it, but I think I'll call and put my hat in the ring for this. It sounds good. You don't mind if I tell her you are the source of my knowledge of it?"

"No, of course not. In fact, I'd like you to tell her that."

"I haven't been taught second grade math for a long time. Teaching of math has changed. I wonder if I could actually do that." Many stories of parents who couldn't make heads or tails of their child's math books came flooding back to me. I intended to address these doubts with the coordinator. All of them, however, vanished in the excitement of possibility when we spoke the next day, "I heard a rumor you have a need for a retired engineer who likes and is good at math. That sounds like it was written for me."

Within ten minutes, she and I had spoken, she checked with the teacher who had the need, she returned to me, and I was scheduled to start the next week, 8:15 AM, Wednesday. She'd be there to introduce me to the teacher and show me around the school.

Then the doubts returned ... the horror of parents with their children's math books. I communicated with the coordinator. Long story short, she arranged for me to meet the teacher the day before I was to start, to see and get a sense of the material I'd be dealing with.

He showed me two sheets of math problems stapled together; "This looks to be about 2 months of work," he said. It's possible my face flushed. "Maybe you'd like this booklet," he picked it out of the activities box containing the material for me and my students, "it's got the answers in the back. The students' copies of this booklet are in here, too; they also have the answers."

"They won't race to the back for answers?" I likely stammered it out.

"Oh, no, they get it that they don't learn anything that way."

He continued, "So … they will come out to you here in the hall. They will have work that the math class has assigned to the whole class. You'll have to make sure of that before you work the Math League problems."

"I make sure it's done … or … ( my second thoughts were flooding back then ) I make sure it's done correctly?" I asked.

"It has to be done correctly," he said. "I'm sure it will be and that should not be a problem for you."


"Great, see you tomorrow, 8:15. Thanks for coming in."

I reviewed the material at home … Continental Math League material. Some seemed pretty simple: how much larger than ( 3+4+8+6+4 ) is
( 2+9+8+5+7 )? Others seemed significantly harder: If 1 chicken can lay 3 eggs in 4 days, how many eggs can 3 chickens lay in 8 days? "Second graders can do this?"

None of this seemed unfamiliar to me, nothing like the fantasies I was having when nearing panic about this assignment. Confident I could handle the math, and even teach some if required, I went to sleep more easily. But I still wondered how I'd handle four second-graders all by myself for forty-five minutes.

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