This is a lettuce garden that is growing in my home. It lives in a Clementine box. I love the lettuce garden, but I don’t expect it to be able to read graphs or do 3-digit by 3-digit multiplication, even if I taught it in every way possible, many, many times. I do, on the other hand, expect my classroom students to have more success than salad greens would.
The good news is that, in our urban “failing” school (that’s the affectionate nickname folks like to call it), a few of my students show evidence of these kinds of skills that I have been diligently teaching for months. But the majority seem to suffer from the “Men In Black” syndrome. One of my astute colleagues detected this phenomenon as we noticed some of the appalling responses to math questions on the state tests. It was as if, she noticed, they came to school on the first day of the test, and they all received the “flashy thing” treatment. You know, when the Men In Black agents put on the Ray Bans and held up the wand whose flash removed all memory of what had gone before. Indeed, upon reflection, we notice this on a pretty regular basis: we teach them, they get it, they go home, and— Flashy Thing— set to the time when they learned to add. The next day, we (and by “we” I mean the state OR some publishing company’s lucrative collection of work that mirrors the state test) hit ’em with a word problem like this:
” There were 75 students who wanted to raise money for a field trip to Zippy Ha Ha Town (not a real destination). If each student raised 120 dollars, and they needed a total of 775 dollars, would they have raised enough money to take the field trip to Zippy Ha Ha Town? Explain how you got your answer and show your work. “
Answer: Yes. They could go to Zip Town. I know because I plussed 775 and 75 and 120 and got 970.
This was actually a stronger-than-many answer, what with the accurate addition and all! They recognize that there are numbers in the word pile, and then they start seeing plus signs. And using the word “plus” as a verb. Yeah, we totally taught them that 735 times. And we totally didn’t say to them 970 times (strange numeric coincidence there) that almost NEVER would they see a word problem at their grade level that would be asking them to just add whatever numbers happen to show up somewhere in the word pile.
I am considering bringing my lettuce box to school and teaching math to the lettuce box. Maybe the students would remember a tiny bit more? Perhaps they will be inspired by the way the lettuce doesn’t interrupt me to tell another lettuce box to stop looking at them.
Or, it is possible that it would be best if someone would just break out the Flashy Thing and take me back to a time when I felt that working in an urban school was an honorable calling, when I was respected for working with these incredibly challenging children from unthinkable backgrounds; before that choice meant I could lose my job if my students didn’t pass the state test. I’ll just pack up my lettuce box and head on over to Zippy Ha Ha Land.