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Lucky 7

written Saturday, 10/1/2011

At lunch not too long ago I retrieved a can of diet soda from the fridge in Ms. Greco’s classroom next door. Apparently I stored it too close to the cooling element. I didn’t notice that the can had bulged, and it started overflowing upon popping the top. I ran over to place it in the nearest trash container.

By the time Ms. Greco’s after-lunch Geometry students started filing in, I noticed that the frozen chunk of beverage had thawed quite a bit. Since the otherwise-empty trash bin donned a new plastic liner, I picked up the can and proceeded to drink. I don’t know whether the onlooking kids realized it was my soda to begin with or not, but I reveled in their disgust.

Ahh, may the fountain of delightful immaturity never run dry.

A couple days later I placed a partially-eaten apple into a plastic bag and planted into Ms. Greco’s trash receptacle. The next time it was a third of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And then part of a granola bar. On these occasions garbage had accumulated through the day, so the theatrics of digging through rubbish and the revulsion of students upon seeing me consume my findings escalated. Even on the best days of teaching, such moments of foolishness so often provide the highlights.

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A former student, class of 2010, alerted me to a “batman equation” that had gained some popularity amongst nerdy circles this summer. The single equation was actually a compilation of individual functions/relations which, when graphed, drew out the famous batman logo. The equation was too complicated to graph on a handheld graphing calculator, so I became intrigued with the notion of making a simpler version of the logo that could be depicted by a standard issue Texas Instruments grapher. Motivated by the relevant topic of “graphical transformations” that I was teaching in my PreCalculus class, I went on to develop ten more images constructed from mathematical graphs.

Many students found my graphical images interesting, but one was especially intrigued. She set out to make a better “batman equation” than mine, along the way discovering some of the concepts that I had not even formally introduced yet in PreCalculus. Instead of doing the simpler exercises out of the textbook for homework, I suggested she continue developing her own equations and graphs.

Amongst all the “sorta-cool” stuff I’m tasked with teaching students, sometimes the “super-cool” extensions only really resonate with one or two students each year. Even if the ranks of the math nerd army get filled just one student at a time, I’ll take what I can get.

In the photographs of the calculator screen, watch for cameos from Kong & Estelle.

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Year seven of teaching has started off pretty well. Personally, this is the most pleasant roster of students I’ve ever had. Academically, the challenges that I typically gripe about still remain. As always though, the young ‘uns who are willing to sacrifice their time and expend their energy to empower their brains have endeared themselves to me the most. I genuinely enjoy the after-school office hours with these students, yet I’ve finally started limiting my availability to 5 or 5:30 at the latest. My average workday is down to about 12 hours, which is actually a significant improvement over last year! I aim to bring that number down some more over time, but I’m willing to let progress happen in baby steps here.