Thursday, March 31, 2011

counting them down

Fifth grader Iris uber Alles has been irritated all year long by her math class. Last fall Iris brought up the subject of her math class and said unhappily that she must have done terribly on her standardized tests last year, because she'd been put into a math group that was too easy for her. We parents made inquiries and found out that, for reasons which remain completely inscrutable to us, the children's school doesn't do ability grouping in the fifth grade for math. Iris wasn't, as she thought, cut loose from the higher achieving girls' group; that group didn't exist any more.

The result has been that Iris has been severely underchallenged and bored all year. The Sober Husband, who is the self-designated Math Parent (and indeed he's overqualified for that job -- the man has a highly respectable Erdos number and has taught math at the college level), reached out as tactfully as he could a few times to the math teacher, hoping to get Iris harder work, but it hasn't panned out.

In theory mixed ability groups give the regular students the opportunity to see and learn from more advanced kids, but I doubt Iris's presence is inspirational to anyone. While some of the children are truly struggling with the material, they are confronted by a bored and sarcastic Iris, no doubt sighing and rolling her eyes.

Iris gleefully shared the other day that "we're doing fractions, and the teacher asked, 'I have five fifths and I take one away; what do I have?' and a girl said, "Umm, three sixths?'" Iris laughed heartily. I felt a twinge of sorrow for the child who drew Iris's scorn in her mathematical struggles (I have talked to Iris a few times about the need to be tactful and polite to others in these situations, but I don't think it sinks in).

I feel for her teacher. I can understand that presented with a group of students with a wide variation in abilities, a teacher naturally ends up focusing on the lower-performing end. Additionally, she needs to try to get these students interested in math and to believe that they can be good at it, and how can that be helped by having Iris huffing over the indignity of having to do the too-hard-for-them, too-easy-for-her work?

Yesterday Iris reported indignantly that her teacher taught them a rather time-consuming method for reducing fractions and gave them a big sheet of fractions to reduce. "Momdude, it took forever! Like ten minutes for each fraction to write all that out! So I raised my hand and said, 'I can do all these in my head, so do I have to do that method? Can I just write the answer instead?' and the teacher said no!" Iris was outraged.

"Well, you only have about two more months," I said.

"Nineteen more classes," she snapped back.

"Wait, you figured out how many more math classes?"

"No, the teacher did," Iris informed me. "When I complained, she told me there were only 19 more classes."

I laughed. "Oh, Iris, she probably has a calendar where she's crossing off how she's getting rid of you. Maybe on the last day, there's a smiley face. Or a little drawing of you she can scratch out." We both laughed. (Of course, I am sure the teacher is far too professional for that, but I'm also sure her life would be easier if Iris weren't in this class).


Ellen Spertus said...

It's a little late for this year, but you should consider the Bay Area Math Circle.

hughman said...

the SH should make and offer an iPad app to all of iris's teachers counting down the days.

besides, once she's in her new school she's going to be wistfully remembering the days she was the smartest.