why culture matters even in math class

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his tech job and become a high school math teacher (a move that still has my jaw on the floor in awe). He’s been tracking the tough lessons of being a new teacher on a blog. This morning, he posted about why culture matters and his experience has had me smiling all day. For those who are link shy, i’ll summarize:

Homework question: “While in France last summer I bought a hat for 25.50. A friend bought a similar hat for 5 in the United States. What’s going on here? Explain completely.”

Expected answer: “something about different currencies and exchange rates. This question comes in the context of problems about length and area, so the importance of units in measurement is being emphasized.”

Student answer: “Two possibilities: 1, the hat your friend bought was fake. It said similar not same. 2, you got ripped off in France because your [sic] a tourist.”

ROFL! I just want to reach out and hug his student – that just rocks.

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8 thoughts on “why culture matters even in math class

  1. Ian

    The dollar stands at 0.804 Euros today. Perhaps the student knew this and concluded that an answer based exclusively on exchange rate wouldn’t cut it. I am just in the process of launching a Math resource here in the UK (I’m an educational publisher) and I find that teaching here now puts a huge stress on understanding the real-world context of a calculation.

  2. fling93

    Reminds me of the student asked to compute the height of a building using a barometer. One of his answers was to drop the barometer from the top of the building and time how long it took to hear it crash below. The more amusing version was to take the barometer to the superintendent and ask them if they would tell him the height of the building in exchange for a nice barometer.

    Might be an urban myth, though.

  3. mir

    I have told this story a billion times. Once when taking a math for finance course I was asked the question;

    if paper company B purchases a 50 hectare patch of forest for x-dollars and the forest will produce lumber for ten years at a value of 100,000 per hectare, at which point the forest will be valueless, how much of the forests profit does the paper company need to set aside in order to purchase another 10 hectares in 10 years? the interest rate is 4.5 % compounded semi-annually.

    Talk about culture/context. That is *so* not the way I look at clear-cutting.

  4. marcus

    a priceless post – when i used to make toys, the best and least expensive market research -(throw toys in room – wait for the kids to fight it out over a parituclar toy – ding ding ding – winner)

    but including kids in research for adult problems is one of the most revealing ways to get access to imaginative thinking. a child hasn’t been tainted with the woes of life – many times they have a simplistic beauty, wildly imaginative solutions, and uncommon – common sense.

    then something happens where that path to living inside a box is rewarded. go figure.

  5. marcus

    Brainburp – grandma’s perspective

    I just posted a comment to a blog from a hilarious post from about kids and math. A little girl walked into the coffee shop in phoenix, AZ. I saw her yesterday – the first day I have been in the state from moving from Tennessee. She is a special kid. Today she brought her little brother along with mom, grandma and possibly an older sister and brother in law in tow.

    The child is a bundle of energy, a flop of curly hair revealing happiness and joy through her big brown eyes. The social dynamic was fun to see. For in the world of grown ups – it was test of wills – one where in the world one must behave and be a big person – while deep inside the recesses of their hearts – each somehow wished they could be a child again.

    The world’s woes have somehow covered the adults with the stuff of life – maybe it was disappointments, setbacks, having too much comfort and no burning desire to reach forth again? Perhaps it was that everyone learned a self-guided trip to place himself or herself inside a box – their own comfort zone – I guess one could say their external identity? It was a fascinating conflict – one daring to go outside the invisible lines of whom they think they need to be – struggling with who they are inside.

    Just as children bring countless examples of childlike wonderment – age brings about a time when what really matters in life comes forth. Call it wisdom? Time can break through what appears to be the worlds chasing of stuff and bring about that which is important.

    Grandma has got it – she put on her reading glasses and stared at the “magnificent mazes” book with a childlike curiosity. As she looked at her grandchildren, her inner heart came forth, her eyes began to sparkle, and she radiated joy.

    Then she took a piece of paper – wadded it up – and threw a dry spitball of sorts at her grandson.

    The adults scolded her for not acting her age, yet grandma and the grandchildren shared a special moment where age knew no boundary – and living in the moment – mattered.

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