Friday, February 22, 2013

Taking Math Outside the Classroom

I've talked about two cases where I was written up by the College President for taking math outside the classroom. There were a few more similar instances that weren't cited in the reasons for my dismissal, but I still got in trouble for. Here are a couple of them:


With hindsight, it’s obvious to me that my real crime was to be different from other math teachers: different from people who didn’t have the imagination or the knowledge to be able to do the kinds of things that I could. From this point of view, I could finally understand, much later, a couple of other incidents which were baffling to me at the time but which fit into a consistent pattern of behaviour. These confrontations involved, of all people, mild-mannered Dennis Cameron, journeyman carpenter and Facilities Tech program co-ordinator, who literally flew into a rage on two occasions when he encountered me out in the shop doing real-world math exercises with my students.

One incident involved stairway calculations. Dennis had given our students a worksheet. Every stairway has exactly six parameters which define its dimensions: total rise, total run, number of steps, riser height, etc. Given any three, the other three may be calculated by plugging the numbers into certain formulas. That was the gist of the worksheet.

At the end of the period I thought it might be a good idea to go out into the building and measure the dimensions of an ACTUAL staircase, to see if they agreed with what the formulas said. When Dennis saw me doing this, he basically freaked out and ordered me back into the classroom. It sounds crazy but that’s what happened. And it wasn’t the only time.

A couple of months later the students were given an assignment to draw a floor plan of the mock-up house which they had built out in the shop. I thought we ought to start by going out to the shop and taking measurements. Of course, the students had all kinds of trouble reading the tape measure. But I perservered with them until Dennis came upon us. Again...he freaked out. “Who told you to take them out here? They have the dimensions in their notes...”. Well maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. But was there really any reason for him to lose his temper? Except...there I was, the math teacher, out on the shop floor again with my students. Something was obviously very wrong with this picture, from Dennis’s perspective.

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