When I was fired six years ago by University College of the North, the College President gave three examples of improper teaching which were basis for my dismissal: the smokestack, the water heater, and "the slope example". I've talked about the first two cases already, so today we're going to pick up the story at the point where I deal with Exhibit C.

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By now it should be clear that I offended
my fellow teachers by taking math outside the traditional classroom. These are
the incidents which stuck in their minds as being offensive long after I was
gone. Which brings us at last to Exhibit C, the one Ms Henning refers to as
“the slope example”. Just what was this?

My first inkling that “slope” was an issue
came during an absurd conversation late in January with my supervisor, who
worked out of The Pas, five hours away. On one of his infrequent visits, he
made a vague reference to problems with the way I taught slope. When I tried to
ask him what kind of problems he was talking about, he became visibly flustered
and said “slope is just an example”. Then he abruptly announced that he had no more
time to talk because there was a taxi waiting to pick him up for his return
trip to The Pas, and he rushed down the stairs and out the door! My written
follow-ups were not answered, and that was the last I heard about slope.

I’m quite sure I know now what this was all
about. Yes, I do teach slope differently. If a roof slope is 5:12, I draw a little triangle and label the
sides. Then I draw another triangle to represent the rafter. The horizontal
length is given: say, its fourteen feet. The height x is the unknown. Then,
pointing at the triangles, I recite:
“Five is to x as twelve is to fourteen”; and as I say the words, I write
the formula equating the two fractions. That’s how I teach it, and the reason I
teach it that way is because for as long as I can remember, that’s how I’ve
done it myself. And the problem is that my method is quite different from the
way everyone else teaches it.

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