The Great Flagpole Debate of 2013

Sometimes teachers and students disagree. I know, shocking, right? So here is what caused the Great Flagpole Debate of 2013...           

 This unassuming little math problem:

It seemed simple to me.   The answer key said 20 feet, and I agreed.  One student, however, who got this answer wrong, 

"Um, Mrs. Bese... could that answer be wrong?" 

He cleared his throat and spoke again.  "I think the answer is 20 yards."  

Huh?  He was now gathering courage as he spoke from the heart, "I'm pretty sure I got that question right, because I looked at our flagpole outside during recess."  

Clearly, this child strongly believed that HIS answer of 20 yards was the correct one, based on the height of the flagpole in front of our school. This eight year old had the nerve to question me!  Me, the all-knowing teacher!  What to do?

We did the obvious thing. We googled it. And found out that most school flagpoles are between 20 and 40 feet. Ha!  I was right.  I was ready to move on.  My student, however, was not.  I looked at his trusting little face, and heard myself telling the class that I would think about how to measure the flagpole and let them know the next day.

 That night, I looked at my math geek family, took a deep breath, and asked them how to measure a flagpole.   I bet you can guess where this is going.  Yup.   Here is what I heard from Son#1:

"Trigonometry blah blah latitude, blah blah ratio, blah blah opposite length over adjacent length, blah blah tangent..." 

This was so not helping. Two weeks before THE BIG TEST is not the time to introduce new (and not tested) data to third graders.  Not to mention, it was giving me a headache.

My next idea was to get an iPhone app.   I found one for free, and early the next morning I held it out toward the flagpole, and was told that it was 25 feet tall.   Hmmm.  I gazed at it suspiciously.  Was it really measuring the flagpole?  Or the tree next to it?  The flagpole was now looking taller than that to me.   I did not trust this answer.

Next on my agenda was to contact the head of our maintenance department (hereafter known as Maintenance Dude) and ask him how tall the flagpole is.   He didn't know.  Nor did any other employee I questioned.  I even asked the Chairman of the School Board (hereafter known as School Board Dude), who happened to be on campus that morning.   He told me that he was certain it was more than 40 feet.   If that were true, my students deserved to know!  Now what?

 I started the school day, and 26 eight-year-olds looked up at me, waiting expectantly for me to resolve this dilemma.   I AM the teacher, after all.  They trust me.   So instead of teaching my scheduled lesson, I told them that we were going to take a field trip.  To our school flagpole.

For this field trip we took pretend helicopters to the front of the school (that's a story for another day...), and met the Maintenance Dude and the School Board Dude.


 These gentlemen proceeded to tie a VERY long measuring tape to the rope on the flagpole, and pull it to the top. The flagpole measured...

                  41 feet!

My student was right! We took our helicopters back to class and had a quick review of rounding - showing that 41 is closer to 20 yards than 20 feet.

 The class erupted in wild cheers and applause.  The student had beaten the teacher!   The answer key would be forever changed!  Life was good.

 So what did we learn from The Great Flagpole Debate of 2013?
 I would venture to say, these things:

1. Ask questions!  All the time.  Every day.  Even if your teacher looks at you funny.
2. Keep working until you find the answer.  Don't give up.

3. It sometimes takes a group of people working together to solve a problem.

4. Teachers can be wrong, and that's okay.

Was any of this on my lesson plan? No. Was it worth doing? YES!

When was the last time you ignored your lesson plans and did something completely different?  What did your students learn? 

My Shameful Math Secret

One of these things is not like the others...
The Papa                      L1                        L2                       L3  


    I LOVE math!  Third grade math.  I would teach it all day if I could.  But when I get home... I live in a house full of math geeks.  Yes, real ones.  As in, people who understand the mathematical gobbledygook that makes the eyes of normal humans glaze over...  My husband has been a math teacher.  His favorite class to teach was Trigonometry.  My oldest son is in the process of becoming a High School math teacher.  My daughter is getting her Master's Degree in Mathematics.  My youngest son has other aspirations (thank goodness), but would be capable of teaching math someday as well. 

And then there's me.  I feel like Charlie Brown in this Peanuts comic strip:

Courtesy of
Here's what a conversation looks like at my house:

f(x) = \sum_{n=0}^\infty a_n \left( x-c \right)^n = a_0 + a_1 (x-c)^1 + a_2 (x-c)^2 + a_3 (x-c)^3 + \cdots
"That's true, but I would add the function f given by f(x)=(1 + x)α"

"Blah blah blah convergence, blah blah blah hyperbolas"

f(a)+\frac {f'(a)}{1!} (x-a)+ \frac{f''(a)}{2!} (x-a)^2+\frac{f^{(3)}(a)}{3!}(x-a)^3+ \cdots.  
"I taught my third graders how to remember 7 x 8 = 56 today."

So here's that shameful secret: I don't understand anything they are saying! One of these things is not like the others. Sigh. I guess we all have our gifts. I will just be the very best teacher of multiplication facts that I can be. Who knows? Maybe some of my students will grow up to be math geeks! And I can say I helped build the foundation. =)

Happy Math Teaching, whatever kind!

That Feeling of Urgency

Does anyone else have trouble going back to school after Christmas Vacation?  I struggle with this every year, and I think I know why.  Two weeks off is too long!  Here's the thing: we have time to remember that we have a real life at home.  With these people that we call our family (and whom we rarely see during the school week).  We have time to reeeeeelaaaaaax.

Okay, I don't really mean this, but there is some truth here... we also know that when we walk in that door tomorrow morning we will be hit with that FEELING OF URGENCY.  You know the one.  Not the bathroom kind.  In case you don't know what I mean, here are some examples:

  • You realize that half of the year has passed, and you have not taught half of the standards.
  • You remember that you only have three weeks left to schedule your yearly review.
  • You can't find a lesson in the next three weeks that you actually want your Principal to watch you teach.
  • You forgot to make this week's homework for your grade level.  
  • You never planned for this week.
  • Your yard duty day is Monday, and you have no time to plan.  Or make homework.  Or go to the bathroom.

I could go on.  And on.  So here's my plan:  I will take a deep breath.  And go to work at six a.m.  Or maybe five. 


The Truth About Teaching

Let's face it.  We wish teaching was always fun.  We wish our students could spend all of the school day with smiles on their faces and light bulbs shining brightly over their heads - metaphorically speaking.  In the real world, this is simply not possible.  Sometimes the standard our sweeties need to learn is dull, dull, dull.  

How many times can we put a slash between the subject and predicate and circle the verb before we all go crazy bonkers?

I've been teaching for six years now.  Before that I had several other jobs, some that I enjoyed and some that I did not.  Here's the thing.  Teaching isn't a job.  It's way more than that.  Yes, it's a career.  But it's more than that.  Yes, I would even venture to say that it is a calling.  But that sounds so... serious.  So, here's what it really is.  It's FUN!  Where else can we act like complete idiots (for a good cause) and not lose our jobs?  Here are some things that I can do as a teacher that I could never do when I sat behind a desk at a bank:

  • Burst into song whenever I feel like it (extra points for Soprano Opera Voice).
  • Talk about my gorgeous, amazing, intelligent offspring to people who want to listen.
  • Wear pajamas to work (only on special days, but still!)
  • Use colored pencils, markers, crayons, and glue!
  • Talk like a ____________ (insert word(s) here, such as pirate, British aristocrat, cowboy...)
  • Recite poems about boogers and stinky feet.
  • Correct other peoples' children (you know you all want to). 

I love to hear my students laugh.  Studies show that we learn more when we feel relaxed and comfortable and safe.  So let's tell a silly joke.  And when a sweet English Learner's face lights up because she "gets it"?  Well, you've just proven that she's learned a third grade standard: homophones!