Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Life Of A Math Teacher: Math By Phone

The power of one, if fearless and focused, is formidable, but the power of working together is better." -Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
To find the area of a trapezoid, divide the shape into two triangles, find the area of 
each, and add them together. Voila!

Zzzt. Zzzt zzzzzzt. 

Ooo. Incoming notification on my phone.

Like everyone else in the post-modern world, I reach for my device, wondering with a happy hit of dopamine who might be reaching out to me.

Maybe it's my contractor du jour, replying to one of my ten million questions about whatever the project in progress might be: currently I'm working on a new laundry room floor and getting some trees trimmed. 

Or perhaps one of my daughters, ringing in with hearts and likes for the latest entry in my acclaimed photojournalism feature, Streicher Pet Picture of the Day.

To be honest, it's most likely to be Amazon letting me know that they've dropped yet another cardboard box or ten on my front doorstep. I wish you'd treat your employees better, Jeff Bezos, because your retailing behemoth is just so, so good. (Don't worry, I shop local too.)


If I'm really, really lucky, the notification will signal that someone has sent me a math problem to solve. 

* * * * *

Usually, the questions come pouring in from my students. They all know my digits and have been told ten thousand times to text me any time of day or night if they get stuck. Oftentimes, they do, sending me a problem number or a photo of the offending beast straight out of the textbook, and after a bit of chitchat about what they tried and why it didn't work, I work the problem myself and shoot back a photo of my handiwork.

I expect my students assume this to be a fairly annoying intrusion into my non-math teaching life. Probably because they would be annoyed if someone texted them with random math problems to solve. 

But. Guess what. I love it!

If only my students could see me dash to my supplies drawer and carefully slide out a new perfect piece of paper. 

Such a problem deserves a fresh start.

Excitedly, I commence to work it through, first as a scribbly draft and then again in final form, making sure to write extra neat, showing every step - even the ones that I usually do in my head - and pointing out the tricky spots with instructions emphasized in upper case warnings. Of course, I double check my solution against the answer key to be sure I got it right. A wrong answer from the teacher is a cruel deception indeed.

On the rare occasion that I don't have access to an official solution, I track down one of my fellow math lovers in the family - my husband or my fourth-born - and ask them to double check my work.

Guess what. They love it too.

* * * * *

Today I enjoyed a delightful twist on this math-by-phone formula. I received a message asking for help with a math problem all right, but not from one of my current students. This request came from one of my long-ago students, now an adult friend, who is tutoring a middle school math student and got a bit stumped by one of their homework problems. We sorted that out in fine style, and while we were at it, chatted about another tricky scenario - this one a dreaded word problem.

I really enjoyed our chat.

But you know what was best of all? My friend and her tutoring protege live in Istanbul. 

Istanbul, Turkey.

Where Europe and Asia meet up and hold hands. 
Ruled over the millennia by Greeks and Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans.
Home of architecture's precious gem, Hagia Sophia.

Yes. That Istanbul.

* * * * * 

Math is usually considered a lonely pursuit, and when we think about math students - if we think of them at all - we often conjure up sad images of stoop-shouldered egg heads toiling alone in cheerless isolation.

But when we reach out and work together, even doing math by phone, the world becomes a better place.

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