kitchen table math, the sequel: 178 school days left 'til summer

Thursday, September 6, 2007

178 school days left 'til summer


The graphing calculator.

Probably gone, most likely stolen. First day of school. Sturm, drang, etc.

Why did you take it to school?

I thought I had to. It was on the list.

You thought you had to have a graphing calculator on the first day of school? You told me you never do any work on the first day of school.

I thought my teacher might ask to see it.


oh, brother

no common sense-y*

no common sense-y and short attention span theater, a deadly combination

I wasn't planning to allow C. to take his hundred-dollar calculator to school ever, but, in the general chaos that is my life, I forgot to tell him so, and then I forgot to remember I'd forgotten, if that makes any sense.

It makes perfect sense to me, which just goes to show.

C., who has never, in 8 years of schooling, been asked to show his supplies to a teacher on the first day of school, went off to 8th grade fully prepared to do so just in case.

Anyway, Ed talked to Gold Star Homework Mom tonight, who said one of her kids lost 3 twenty-dollar scientific calculators last year and she made him pay for all 3. Kids steal the graphing calculators, she said, and sell them on ebay. This happens all the time.** So this year her husband engraved their kids' names on their graphing calculators and then took the additional precaution of buying them both twenty-dollar calculators they can take to school while the hundred-dollar engraved extravaganza stays home.

So those kids now have personally engraved graphing calculators sitting on the kitchen counter in their house, while my kid's TI 84 awaits its closing bid on ebay.

Nothing like learning things the hard way.

Of course, what have I actually learned?

I've learned our family has no common sense-y and I have a short attention span.

That's not news.

* family motto

**Gee, do you think the school might have mentioned this in one of the gazillion greetings and newsletters and manila envelopes filled with forms but no class schedules it mailed out over the summer? Just a quick little heads-up, a "best to leave your hundred-dollar graphing calculator at home on the first day of school"-type deal?

TI 84 page on ebay
"instructional time issues"
hundred dollar calculator
178 days left 'til summer
email to the principal re: hundred dollar calculators
other people's money
what is the opposite of a silver lining?


Barry Garelick said...

He much betta off!

Me said...

My father's motto is that problems that can be solved with money aren't worth worrying about. I agree with him.

concernedCTparent said...

My dad's favorite is "don't cry over anything that cannot (or will not) cry for you.

It sure tends to put things in perspective at times like these.

Tracy W said...

Of course, if he hadn't taken it, this would have been the one time the teacher did want to see it.

Never forget that the entire universe is biased against us. :)

Catherine Johnson said...

He much betta off!

oh my god

you sound EXACTLY like Chris

(not re: paying for yon graphing calculator)

every day, when we do 3rd grade Singapore Math, talks like that

Catherine Johnson said...

we had MASS crying last night





C. & Christian had been jocking it up (I do mean "jocking," not joking) over the missing hundred-dollar calculator -- haha, calculator missing, mom upset, haha -- I'm beginning to find the Christopher and Christian Show distinctly not funny

The other day Ed made a joke at my expense in the car, for the benefit of Christopher & Christian, and they all roared

That is a very bad way to go; you'd think he'd know that by now

Anyway, Chris & Christian were yucking it up over the missing calculator when I said, "You're paying for the replacement."

This produced an entire evening of off-and-on meltdown.

Catherine Johnson said...

It was high time for this lesson, I must say.

As long as the hundred dollars came out of my pocket, the whole thing was funny.

The instant the hundred dollars came out of his pocket, it's catastrophic.

"I worked so hard for that money." He said that over and over again, and it's true. This summer he asked to begin mowing the lawn so he could earn money & save to buy -- wait for it -- two sixty-dollar video games.

(Time for a Barry refrain: He much betta off.)

Our lawn is hard to mow. First off, there's over an acre of grass, but second, some of it is on a steep hill; another part is terraced; it takes effort and strength to do the whole thing, and it's a pain in the tucchus (still don't know how to spell that word) because you have to set up a board runway from one terrace to the next one down and back up again.

My point: mowing this lawn is not a simple matter of getting out the power mower, gasing it up, and letting it cruise itself back and forth across a square of grass.

So yes, he's worked hard, and he's saved up for a goal for the first time since Kindergarten, when he read lots of books over the summer, working towards a Nintendo or whatever the dominant game system was then.

Catherine Johnson said...

At one point Ed said to him, "You need to sit down and think about your priorities. You're crying over a video game."

Catherine Johnson said...

That is exactly the kind of thing a boy needs to hear from his father.

(Girls, too, I assume, but I know essentially nothing about raising girls.)

Unknown said...

Give your son the benefit. Apparently this sort of requirement is becoming more and more common. For my teaching cohort program, the main instructor and cohort overseer mandated that all required texts be brought to class the first night for full credit in the class.

This was a class of 15 ADULTS returning to school after having a career. To top it off, the cohort was in Phoenix, the school in Flagstaff. There was no "bookstore" we all ordered online. No credit if your books shipped a day late!

Catherine Johnson said...

Apparently God wanted me to have 3 boys AND a 28-year old foster son.

Unknown said...

I think my family has a new motto!

BTW- We've been in school for 18 days, so only 168 more for me!

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Cassy!

Give your son the benefit. Apparently this sort of requirement is becoming more and more common.

Thank you for that!

That's the pip.

He really is such a good kid (I hope that doesn't sound hideously boastful; I REALLY don't mean it to...)...

Anyway, he is the generic "good kid." That's what people say about him; that's his "category." Really, he's more than a good kid; partly because of his autistic brothers, he is a sensitive kid who thinks about others.

This morning he made Jimmy's breakfast. He just did it. Jimmy needed food, so Christopher made it. He's 13 - that's young, I think, to be taking responsibility for your 20 year old sibling.

He's also an innocent. We all are, to a large degree. It's the no common sense-y thing.

When I told him kids are stealing calculators, he said, "Why would anyone steal a calculator?"

Of course I felt the same way.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's my real gripe.

What Chris thinks happened is that someone stole it out of his backpack, which he left in the "math lab" --- almost certainly because he had to leave his backpack there. The school has strict rules about not carrying backpacks around school.

And get this.

The school hadn't assigned lockers yet. HE DIDN'T HAVE A LOCKER TO PUT HIS THINGS INTO.


* the school sends out an Official List of supplies we are required to buy

* the list includes a one hundred dollar graphing calculator

* on the first day of school, when students show up with their bags of supplies, the school does not immediately assign lockers, but has the kids leaving their stuff in empty classrooms

Catherine Johnson said...

At least, that appears to be what happened.

I will be writing an email to the principal.

That will be 6 this week, I think, possibly a new world record.

Catherine Johnson said...

Another thing: they need to let the parents back into the school.

We are locked out, at every level.

A friend who used to work as an aide in the K-5 schools told me that with no parents walking around, the teachers have zero accountability to us.

It's not a matter of spying.

It's a matter of a parent present that creates good relationships, connection, partnership, all those good things.

Locking parents out of the schools automatically damages the relationship.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm probably going to tell the school that if C's account of what happened is correct -- if they were made to leave their belongings in an empty classroom on the first day of school -- then the school will need to purchase us a new calculator.


Catherine Johnson said...

OK, I'm going to find out what the story is on Day One of school.

The middle school is extremely disorganized. Didn't send out any class schedules for the kids (all the other schools did; this has been district policy FOREVER); only managed to post the new homeroom schedule on the front window of the school (parents not allowed inside building without security checks! for our children's safety!); principal sends out welcome-back letter saying his "ambitious agenda" for the year is CREATING A SCHEDULE.


I suspect C's version of day one is correct.

And frankly, even if it's not correct, the school knew it had asked 40 students to bring hundred-dollar graphing calculators to school; it should have been prepared to get those things locked away where they wouldn't be stolen.

Tex said...

I have a high school son who has lost countless school items. When he needed just a basic $9.99 calculator (middle school) I would buy them four at a time so that on the morning of his test when he told me he had lost his, I could pull one out for him to use. I was an enabler, I know.

The funny thing is that he has not lost his $100 graphing calculator. I vaguely recall telling him he would have to pay for a replacement, and maybe that made a difference.

Tex said...

I cut my son some slack on his absent-mindedness and forgetfulness, because he has a father who is the same way.

This is a true story: On the day I became so upset because my son had lost his new winter coat (he had left it on the school bus), my husband comes home in a bad mood because he had left his coat on the train. As it turns out my son’s coat was recovered, but my husband’s was lost forever.

Tex said...

I’ve heard parents complain about how our school does little to address thefts that occur on campus. It is just accepted as something that is part of high school life. The school is good about emphasizing the importance of locking up valuable items, but many kids ignore this advice.

From what I know, a few parents have reported these occurrences to the police, but that’s rare. If more reports were filed, I would think the school would be spurred to be more aggressive in addressing this problem.

Tex said...

Anyway, he is the generic "good kid." That's what people say about him; that's his "category."

I can relate, because I have one of those too. :-)

Independent George said...

I'm still not over the fact that you need a graphing calculator for frackin' middle school.

The only time it was ever required of me was in AP Calculus, and, even then, we rarely touched it. It was supposedly 'required' for the AP exam, but my teacher (Mr. Rubenfeld, bless his heart) was wise enough to realize that our time was better spent learning math instead of mashing buttons. I didn't need it again until econometrics in college, and, even then, I used it sparingly (generally, just as an intermediary step until I could figure out how to build a model in Excel).

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm still not over the fact that you need a graphing calculator for frackin' middle school.

yeah, well, that's another thing

the school continually requires purchases of items that are never used

iirc, the entire school -- all the kids -- were required to purchase twenty-dollar (or is it 30?) scientific calculators in 6th grade.

C. had lost his a couple of months in, and I never replaced it

they never ONCE used those calculators

if I find out this calculator was stolen in part because the school did not assign lockers and forced the kids to leave unattended backpacks in the "math lab" I won't be buying another one, and I will be demanding that the school pay for a replacement.

They won't do it, but they'll be on the receiving end of emails copied to the board & administration, posts to the Parents Forum, and at least one letter to the editor.

Maybe I'll report it to the police, too.

The school is confabbing with the 23-man force all the time, getting "input" about how they should buy surveillance cameras for all the schools....let them confab about procedures for protecting valuable TECHNOLOGY parents have been required and kids have been told to bring to school.

Catherine Johnson said...

The utter lack of respect the middle school displays toward parents is astonishing.

They're now trying to reform this; all of their communcations are super-polite.

But the politeness is worse.

This week the principal thanked me for my interest in the middle school.

Same way he thanked us for "staying for the whole program" back when we attended the spring concert.

The assumption is always: I'm the principal; the school is mine.

I own it.

Thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation.

Unknown said...

The only time I needed a TI-35 was college calculus and I rented it for $5 from the school for the semester! Somehow we managed in high school 20 years ago without one.

Catherine Johnson said...

His welcome back to school letter ended with that line, after telling us, in the body of the letter, that he was proceeding apace with the middle school model parents have massively told him they don't want.

Catherine Johnson said...

Never forget that the entire universe is biased against us. :)

This could be the definition of my own no common sense-y.

I chronically assume a benign universe.

This is why I have to have a formal saying about worse-than-you-think.

Catherine Johnson said...

The only time it was ever required of me was in AP Calculus, and, even then, we rarely touched it.

Thanks so much for this comment.

I'm going to post it up front & post it to the Irvington Parents Forum.

Enough's enough.

Anonymous said...

We are locked out, at every level.

I was at kindergarten orientation this week trying really hard to stay out of trouble. I asked only one question: "Will there be a regular schedule of learning centers?" Gauging the reaction of the teacher you'd have thought I stuck a fork in her eye. I was then told that yes, there would eventually be centers and I could help out. I'm all for helping out, but that's not why I asked. It just seems to me that when you have less than 3 hours to teach kindergarteners really important skills, centers can be quite efficient. Why do I have a foreboding feeling about this?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way, I also learned that he'll be using a calculator in kindergarten. I didn't ask about that, though. I figured I'd save that one for later.

PaulaV said...

At back-to-school night I learned:

1) A buzzer is being installed to lock out parents

2)A few of my principal's guiding beliefs and principals are
a)It is imperative that we engage our students in meaningful activities and hold them accountable for their learning.

b)If you're riding a horse and it dies, GET OFF!

2) My son's fourth grade teacher thinks America is the only country in the world that cares about fractions and that calculators should be used for calculating anything over two digits.

3) You can help your child with math homework if you can figure it out, but don't worry a computerized math program has been purchased that teaches "traditional" math, but personally my son's teacher does not like the program.

This last statement leads me to the fact that our elementary school is implementing Investigations Math and we will be holding math nights to help parents understand the math.

The good thing is there will be no class projects done from home. All projects are to be done in class by the students.

So, the school year has begun. Ugh!!!

Anonymous said...

Don't kick yourself; the perp would have found a way no matter if your child brought it on opening day or next month. The engraving doesn't matter either, the perp will scratch it out & say that he scratched his name out because his parents used his full name and he doesn't go by it. Your child may even find out who took it, as other kids will relate the bragging. Happens all the time with ipods. If you have the serial #, the perp will turn it around and say your kid got the number when he lent the calc to your kid, so that it'll be one word against the other. The only helpful thing I can think of for this circumstance is a video of your kid at home removing the store packaging from calc, and closeup of serial number.

One ? for the math teacher : is there a class set of calcs or are the students expected to bring theirs daily? Are there any available to sign out for the year (i.e. supposedly for low income children) ? The principal should see that next year the supply list has the policy stated.

Another middle school shenanigan to watch out for is the cell phone. If your student has one, you may wish to instruct him to give your home number, not a cell number if a teacher coerces him into giving a phone number to a 'study buddy' or group project member that you don't know....the game going around up here in Orange Cty is for the perps to target a fellow student, obtain the cell # and repeatedly call from various numbers, using up the target's minutes. Kids just don't always think b4 they hit 'accept'; they also give out other kids' # w/o asking if it is ok. Girls will also sometimes hook boys; the text msg bill will be sky high b4 you know it.

Does your school have a BLT (building leadership team) with a parent rep? You could effectively advocate from there.

Anonymous said...

Oh Paula,

I feel for you. Red flags galore. I remember when my son's 5th grade teacher walked around and announced to the parents that they would now be "de-emphasizing computation and emphasizing problem-solving." It took everything I had not to raise my hand and say, "And how in the hell do you plan to do that since one is required to do the other?"

At our back-to-school night we listened to a teacher talk about how the kids were going to build "community" through various activities. There were pictures of them on the floor in groups making little puzzles about their hopes and dreams. This is 7th grade.

We also learned about the "circle of power and respect" or something like that. Put in any generic term you want.

I leaned over to my son and said, "This is going to be a tough class, hon."

Anonymous said...

I'm a math brain, and I have to confess that I don't even know how to use a graphing calculator. I can, however, produce a passable representation of a three-dimensional saddle graph using only pencil and graph paper, because I was forced to in Multivariate Calculus (AKA Calc 3) 25 years ago. I used the same TI-30 from high school all the way through engineering school. We weren't allowed to use calculators on the SAT, but I think they were allowed on the AP Calc exam, but only because you had to know what you were doing in order to set up the problem correctly in the first place.

PaulaV said...


The minute I saw the handout with Investigations Math printed on it, I knew what was coming. You know, the funny thing was that the principal could not wait to get the parents out of the gym and on to the classrooms. She wouldn't talk about math, but she talked endlessly about the PTA and that freaking Sally Foster wrapping paper!

Honestly, I took a good look around the gym last night and I thought to myself some of these people either don't get it or get it, like me, and keep their mouths shut. At that moment, I let out a loud sigh.

Circle of respect? I honestly do not like character education. My sister, a former teacher, says some kids need it. Well, I say, some kids don't because there parents teach them right from wrong.

At least, you can laugh and carry on through all the cr**. KTM is truly my saving grace. I come here to vent and laugh, and laugh I do!

Mike Ritzius said...

I love all this talk of $100 calculators. The district in which I teach serves a very economically disadvantaged population so our brilliant administration thought that we should assign each student (grades 9-12)a graphing calculator provided by the district. The sad thing is, these calculators invariable get stolen and some poor kid misses out on graduation because they can't afford to pay for it.

le radical galoisien said...

"Somehow we managed in high school 20 years ago without one."

Mathematica didn't exist back then too.

I'm not worried about the existence of calculator problems in the AP exam My teacher's comment last year on the calculator section was that for both free response and multiple choice, a good portion (1/3 or 2/5?) had problems where a calculator didn't help at all, then another portion where a calculator sort of helped get a clearer picture but didn't really solve the problem for you, another portion of problems where a calculator was useful because it saved you time on the exam when calculating ugly integrals or derivatives (don't mind this -- usually they're trying to test something else).

A small portion is composed of questions you can't really do (unless you're a genius) without a calculator.

There are also a portion that are "trick questions" -- intentionally engineered such that if you try it with a calculator without having really analysed the problem first (in order to realise it doesn't require a calculator), you get a misleading result (usually because there's a tiny hole in the graph somewhere that is hardly noticeable on the graphing calculator).

This doesn't make for a weaker syllabus. One thing I've been thinking about is that it'd be so great to use Mathematica to show how theorems work, and what happens graphically when you start changing parameters in an equation, etc.

The use of calculators allows the collegeboard to introduce really conceptually difficult questions in the calculator section. Usually, the calculator section is more difficult than the non-calculator section.

Also, you try doing this without a calculator:

question 2.

That was the problem where I had trouble with because my calculator refused to graph piecewise, or rather because I forgot how to graph piecewise. (I only realised how later.)

So I only partially answered the problem. (But I got a 5 anyway?!!)

"The only time it was ever required of me was in AP Calculus, and, even then, we rarely touched it."

What year exam did you take?

Last year we were mugging over really old exams like 1969 or 1988.

Little or no calculator work, but the problems are less interesting.

I think the existence of "trick questions" (where you overrely on your calculator to "see" things for you and you end up being deceived by the trick questions) helps ensure that you know how to analyse the problems first.

Learning how to consult a trigonometric table (the only difference is that it is non-interactive) is IMO, not that different either.

For example, I don't think my standard of English will be inferior simply because I use online dictionaries and use to investigate word origins (rather than say, a print version of the OED). I still have to look up stuff either way.

However, from looking at my sister's past textbooks I think calculators are being misused in the lower levels.

There was this freshman math class in my school where a test concerned how to apply the BODMUS (or whatever you Americans call it :p) rule ... order of operations, etc.

So they permitted calculators to solve questions like 6+13*(29-17) or some problem like that.

And there were some kids who still failed it.

Anyway, my teacher didn't focus on calculators too much either. We used them frequently to do calculator problems or to evaluate a problem where we had a disagreement (the definite integral should be 2 * sqrt 11! No, it should be 9 / sqrt(13)! etc.)

She didn't focus on how to do problems piecewise, so on that day I was quite perplexed.

From the AP website:

"The committee develops exams based on the assumption that all students have access to four basic calculator capabilities used extensively in calculus. A graphing calculator appropriate for use on the exams is expected to have the built-in capability to:

* Plot the graph of a function within an arbitrary viewing window
* Find the zeros of functions (solve equations numerically)
* Numerically calculate the derivative of a function
* Numerically calculate the value of a definite integral

One or more of these capabilities should provide the sufficient computational tools for successful development of a solution to any exam question that requires the use of a calculator. Care is taken to ensure that the exam questions do not favor students who use graphing calculators with more extensive built-in features."

So the prominence of calculators isn't necessarily always a bad thing (and I don't mean that cheesy 'our program is conceptually-driven where calculators will be used as a tool, not a crutch' sort of thing).

For example if your second derivative happens to include a 3rd or 4th degree polynomial with several trig functions tossed in for good measure (mind you, probably invoking the product or chain rule or other), and the idea was to apply the idea that when d^2 x/dy changes sign from positive to negative, you get an inflection point, then I don't think using a calculator is a bad thing.