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I Don't Know...I'm Not A Mathematician

J.M. (Bellingham, WA) forwarded me an interesting video link, sent to her by student K.F. In sending it, J.M. added that the video was prompted by her remark "about not being able to teach everyone math--that I had learned the futility of trying to teach math at the fabric store or the Haggen deli."

For those of us who have devoted our lives to stamping out the evil virus known as 0.98˘-itus, this video will hit home. So, enjoy and wince at times, thanks to this conversation with a Verizon representatives. The man placing the call was very patient!

Now, this video has prompted some video responses. For example, consider the Professor's Response.

Again, as part of the resources for this next year, I am planning on suggesting an on-line video(s) each month. Thus, if you have a favorite video (e.g. YouTube, TeacherTube, whatever....), please send the link to me (with your comments?) and I will try to include it and share it with others.


D.E. (Seattle) offers these comments and cautions regarding my inclusion of these videos....

I watched the videos, and I have to disagree with you about the patience of the caller. We all know that people struggle with math, particularly:

  • math done “in the head,” as I’m guessing the Verizon people didn’t have a notepad in front of them
  • unit conversions
  • working with decimals that get odd enough that the results don’t have intuition to help with
  • when the computer tells them something else.
Given that, our job, as math teachers (at the moment when we’re trying to instruct them, not in creating learning activities etc.) is to help bridge the gap between their basic understanding and the complication of the situation.

I think, if I was calm and rational about the whole thing, I’d approach it this way:

Me: “I think the thousands and decimals are getting in he way. Could I give you a simpler example?”
V: “Sure”
Me: “And could you make notes as we go, so you can look back to the examples we’ll use?”
V: “Okay, could I just write on a text page on my phone?”
Me: “I really think paper would be better.”
V: “Okay, give me a second.”

(10 minutes later)

V: “Okay, I went to the store and got a pen, and I’m using the back of someone’s bill to write on.”
Me: “Great. I’m going to make up new, easier numbers, and I think it’ll help.”
V: “Okay.”
Me: “Suppose it was 5 cents per kilobyte.”
V: “Wow! That would be great.”
Me: “Yes, I know, but suppose I only used 2 kilobytes.”
V: “Okay.”
Me: “So what’s my bill?”
V: “10.”
Me: “10 what? Is it 10 cents or 10 dollars?”
V: “I’m not sure.”
Me: “Well, it’s 5 cents for the first KB, and 5 cents for the second, so altogether that’s what?”
V: “Oh! 10 cents. But I like 10 dollars better.”
Me: “I support you in that feeling, but you got to stick to the truth. So when you multiply 2 KB * 5 cents/KB, the answer is in cents, right? 10 cents?”
V: “I get it. Neat how you can underline a word that you speak.”
Me: “It’s a talent. So let’s do another one. If it’s 10 cents per kilobyte and I use 12 KB, then what’s the bill?”
V: “Hold on, I have to turn on my phone to use the calculator. Okay, so that would be 120.”
Me: “120 what?”
V: “Uh, 120…well, I guess it’s cents. But that doesn’t seem right.”
Me: “Well, I could pay you the 10 cents in dimes. So I give you a dime every time I use a KB. If I use 12 KB, what do you have in your hand at the end?”
V: “12 dimes. Oh! So it’s 120 cents.”
Me: “Right. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are: you multiply the rate of cents per KB times the number of KB, and your answer is in cents.”
V: “It looks like it.”
Me: “So do the same thing with the weird numbers. It’s actually 0.002 cents per KB, and 35893 KB. When you multiply those, the answer is 71ish, but that means…”
V: “71 cents. Darn! I’ll have to get my manager. You’ll have to that dime thing again.”
Me: “No prob.”

(Not attempting to make fun of Verizon, just including a few in-jokes for fellow math teachers)

I found the caller to be condescending, in part because he was frustrated. The moment you talk down to people, you

  • Perpetuate the public’s resistance to math teachers, and
  • Turn off the listener’s minds, because their feelings are on overdrive.
That’s it for me!


Any one else want to share their comments?