Tie And Jeans

Real Math Derails Your Lesson Plan

I never remember what exactly a petard was, or what it was supposed to hoist. When I’ve tried to explain that line to students, I shorthand it as owngoal or auto-frag. Whatever you call it, I hoisted myself something fierce this morning with this great number theory puzzle: The Dr Square Puzzle | math for love.

I don’t have my own classroom this year, but one the greatest benefits of my meta-teacher position is that I’m not tied to the impossible, bladder-destroying schedule. This means that when I see a classroom filling with students and there’s no teacher in sight, I can wander in and hijack it for a few minutes. Just as any sane school recognizes that punctuality in students is a goal rather than an absolute rule, we try to have the same understanding for teachers. There are certain conversations, on the blacktop, in the stairwell, even in the faculty room, that are worth being a few minutes late to class. I love it when I can help teachers have those moments, and not lose the next class period.

Unfortunately for the the math teachers on my hall, when I’ve got a full whiteboard and a class of kids complaining about arithmetic, my brain churns out puzzle problems. It’s middle school, so I can get a lot of mileage from the classics (most of which I fist saw on Dr. Math after I started teaching). – McNuggets Problem, the Locker/Homicidal Regent, the Cubic Cake Frosting. These finely crafted bombs of number theory goodness can ensnare a class quickly and deeply (yay!) and will surface again and again as the “normalcy” of math class resumes. Hence, why my presence in a math teacher’s classroom is sometimes viewed with a mixture of thanks and suspicion. “Couldn’t you have just done the warmup?”

Mr. W and his class came back in from break today to a white board covered in “weird math junk”, while I chewed on a marker and muttered to myself about divisibility rules. The kids where flummoxed by what “that weird N” or “mod3” meant and by what could have distracted me so deeply that my Macbook battery had died sitting on the table, three feet from an outlet.

Mr. W knew and just started to laugh.

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8 thoughts on “Real Math Derails Your Lesson Plan

  1. Although the expression “hoist with his own petard” sounds like someone is being lifted in the air (possibly hanged) by some device (maybe a snare or noose) left to entrap someone else (and that last part is the sense of the figurative usage), the literal meaning is to be blown upwards, rather than lifted from above, by an explosive device (bomb).

    The part that will be sure to amuse many students is that the word “petard” comes from French, Latin, and Greek words/roots that mean to “break wind.” You can hardly go wrong with fart humor in K-12, can you? ;^)

    Like a lot of Shakespeare, this phrase is easily misunderstood by modern readers. The famous “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” isn’t Juliet looking for a lost boyfriend, but rather her entreaty to fate that this guy she’s just met and been smitten by is the son of her father’s mortal enemy. The “Wherefore” means “Why?” not “Where” with a few bonus letters.

  2. Oh, and lovely post, by the way. :)

  3. tieandjeans on said:

    Thanks Michael! It’s nice to know that the original meaning is actually closer to a Rocket Jump Fail than I had expected. Although, on reflection, it makes sense that Shakespearean theater would have a host of descriptors for the horrible things can happen when your gunpowder based special effects go awry.

    Thanks for stopping by. Are you running a Google Alert for commonly misinterpreted Shakespearean phrases?

  4. Ha. Not quite. I came by your blog “honestly” from another math blog (don’t ask me which, though it may come to me sooner or later). But I’m a former English teacher who became a math educator in my 30s (officially in my 40s). And I know a good deal of Shakespeare, though it’s been a LONG time since I last formally studied him (like, fall of 1971). Some things come up often enough, though, that they stick in my head: the two I mentioned are high on that list, but if you go through just about any play of Shakespeare in a text that has notes, you’ll find plenty of other obvious things where Elizabethan and modern English diverge.

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