Trying to find math inside everything else

Archive for December, 2014

The Lottery Choice

The other day I read Carl Oliver’s post about the safe and the piggy bank. I was reminded of a lesson I did last year in my exponential unit after taking Chris Luzniak’s wonderful course on debate in math and science classrooms. I wanted to make the typical doubling penny problem more debatable. It actually only really required a small change.


“Would you rather…

a) Win $100,000 a month for 30 months, or

b) Win a penny the first month and have your total doubled every subsequent month, for 30 months.”


This seems like the same problem as the typical formulation, on the surface, but it’s not. The key differences in the length of time. Usually, the time frame is over a month with daily payments. This is because the number 30 lends itself well to the problem. In that case is pretty unreasonable to not just wait for the full month to get more money by using the penny.

But now though the penny option gets you more money in the long run, you have to wait a really long time before you get anything of value. It takes two years just to get the same amount of money as option A gets you in one month. For some students, that’s just too long to wait. When you need money, you might gladly choose option one for more immediate relief, even if option B gets you more in the end. So it’s a nice debate and would you rather question.

The Other F Word

It’s been a few years since a student has called me a faggot.

Not that I hadn’t heard the word, of course. I do teach teenagers, after all, and it does come up. But no more than once or twice a year, because I come down hard on it. I’m pretty jovial in class, and even when I’m mad it’s a quiet mad, but that’s a time when the full-shout comes out. The student needs to leave the room and have a pretty serious talk about the power of words and hate speech. Usually it is done out of ignorance. Usually we can move past it.

Today I was walking in the hallway, having just gotten my lunch, when I heard the word, solitary, a single statement alone. “Faggot.”

It has happened before, though not, actually, that word, but rather “maricón.” That was in my first year teaching, with a student I would spar with quite frequently. When I mentioned it to my principal that year he was suitably enraged – meetings were had, parents called in, etc. And then we kept on.

There were three of us in the hall at the time, so maybe I was unclear. “Are you talking to me?” I asked.

“Who else would I be talking to?”

I told another LGBT colleague about it the next period. They were visibly upset by the news, a quiet shaking, but a deep anger. “That’s not the kind of environment I want to work in. Something needs to actually happen about this.” Referring to, of course, the habit of the school to either let slide an incident or go for a suspension, with little in between.

How did I react? Stunned silence, I suppose. That full-shout wasn’t anywhere near the surface. Why was that? Direction, intent, they matter, I suppose. When I hear it errantly in class, I am still the teacher. It is my role to teach them the error of their ways, to make clear the severity of their transgression. The anger there is a teaching tool, in its own way. It’s building on the relationship I have with the student, showing my emotion to forge a stronger connection that can avoid it in the future. Maybe the anger was gone because the relationship was broken.

When I went to the dean immediately after, the school aide immediately left to pull the student from class. But we all wondered why. The student is not in any of my classes – I have not taught them since they were a freshmen. What purpose did this serve? What’s the point?

As I spoke with my colleague, the next period, they appeared, sheepishly, at the door. “I’m sorry.” “I was just talking about some sneakers and it just came into my head to point it at you.” “I didn’t know you were going to take it personally.”

How else was I going to take it? I’m a person.

I wonder, also, if my reaction was different because I know this student so well. Did I know that it came from a place of teenage stupidity, not a place of hate? There are certainly other students where it would be much more hateful if they said it, that I know. But here, the emotion I felt the most was confusion.

My colleague felt a lot better after the apology. We both talked with the student about how hateful speech can be and how the choices we make with what we say matter. The benefits of restorative justice, I guess. No suspensions will be made, but I am okay with that, of course. We can’t suspend our way to peace. When there’s a breakdown, well, we just need to build up again.


TMC 15 Speaker Proposals

Have you heard of Twitter Math Camp? It’s the best weekend of professional development and enthusiasm replenishment around. Don’t end up in the jealousy camp this summer! Sign up to present and you’ll get early access to registration:

We are starting our gear up for TMC15, which will be at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA (outside of LA – map is here) fromJuly 23-26, 2015. We are looking forward to a great event! Part of what makes TMC special is the wonderful presentations we have from math teachers who are facing the same challenges that we all are.

To get an idea of what the community is interested in hearing about and/or learning about we set up a Google Doc ( It’s an open GDoc for people to list their interests and someone who might be good to present that topic. If multiple people were interested in a session idea, he/she added a “+1” after it. The doc is still open for editing, so if you have an idea of what you’d like to see someone else present as you’re writing your own proposal, feel free to add it!


This conference is by teachers, for teachers. That means we need you to present. Yes, you! In the past everyone who submitted on time was accepted, so we really, honestly and truly need you to submit/present! What can you share that you do in your classroom that others can learn from? Presentations can be anything from a strategy you use to how you organize your entire curriculum. Anything someone has ever asked you about is something worth sharing. And that thing that no one has asked about but you wish they would? That’s worth sharing too. Once you’ve decided on a topic, come up with a title and description and submit the form. The description you submit now is the one that will go into the program, so make sure it is clear and enticing.


If you have an idea for something short (between 5 and 15 minutes) to share, plan on doing a My Favorite. Those will be submitted at a later date.


The deadline for submitting your TMC Speaker Proposal is January 19, 2015 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. This is a firm deadline since we will reserve spots for all presenters before we begin to open registration on February 1st.


Thank you for your interest!


Team TMC – Lisa Henry, Lead Organizer, Mary Bourassa, Tina Cardone, James Cleveland, Cortni Kemlage, Jami Packer, Max Ray, Glenn Waddell, and Darryl Yong


P.S. Remember, the more presenters we have, the more space we will have at the conference! Everyone has something to share, so don’t be shy about signing up – I know I wasn’t. I presented at all three TMCs, even if I didn’t always feel like I had a “right” to present. You do! Do it!