SOCK-IT-TO-YA

We had planned to not write about this one, dearly hoping it would quietly fade away. That was never going to happen, however, and, having made The Washington Post and the like, there’s now no purpose in not writing about it.

A few days ago, an American schoolteacher went through what was apparently her standard trigonometry routine, donning a fake Indian headdress and chanting SOHCAHTOA as a war dance, or whatever. Yes, the schoolteacher is from another era and, quite possibly, another planet. This year, however, a Native American kid in the class filmed her and then gave permission for the video to be posted on Instagram, where it appeared complete with a campaign speech, and school name and contacts. The snowball then did what snowballs do, the teacher has been suspended and so forth.

It is interesting times when a member of the Hitlerjugend is almost universally portrayed as the victim.

BIFF 2: Bob Newhart and IBM

Bob Newhart is one of the all-time great stand up comedians. He’s perfect at capturing the powerlessness of the little guy in a ludicrous world of hucksters. Newhart was huge in the early 60s but, despite the fact that most comedy dates really quickly, many of his routines hold up very well. His best routines are, maybe, Retirement Party, African Movie and Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue. And, since this is a maths blog, we have to make mention of Infinite Monkeys. Continue reading “BIFF 2: Bob Newhart and IBM”

PoSWW 21: Des is Mos’ Disturbing

Once upon a time, we were invited to publicly debate the use of “technology” in mathematics education. The Lord of the Meeting, however, decided that we were not the right kind of person, we were disinvited and plans for the debate ended. Instead, our would-be debating opponent and their mate were granted the platform to spruik to their heart’s content, unchallenged. A shame. Continue reading “PoSWW 21: Des is Mos’ Disturbing”

What Should We Write About?

Having fixed maths education and having run out of things to say, we’re open for suggestions.

Yeah, well, not really, or even close. We have, however, said all we plan to say on ACARA and their ridiculous curriculum, at least until whatever happens happens. And, although our to-do list runs to several volumes, with some to-dos kind of pressing, there is now, finally some space for choice. So, if there is something you wish us to write upon, some WitCH you particularly wish to see updated, whatever, suggestions are welcome. They’ll be ignored, but they’re welcome.

Which is the Best ATSI Elaboration?

Are we trying to stir up trouble? No and, of course, yes. And yes. If we were really stirring up trouble, we’d be asking for the worst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elaboration. But yes, as with our previous competitions,1 the intention is to damn an aspect of the draft mathematics curriculum by making evident the faintness of the possible praise. Moreover, given that there is essentially no tradition of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mathematics, something has to be said about this aspect of the curriculum. We do so.2

Continue reading “Which is the Best ATSI Elaboration?”

Mr. McRae’s Triple Gift

This is a story from long, long ago. It is about Mr. McRae, who was our grade 4 teacher, at Macleod State School. We have written about Macleod before, and we have written, briefly, about Mr. McRae before, in regard to the moon landing:

I still have vivid-grainy memories of watching Armstrong’s first steps. A random few students from each class in Macleod State School were selected to go to the library to watch the event on the school’s one TV. I was not one of the lucky few. But Mr. Macrae, our wonderful Grade 4 teacher, just declared “Bugger it!”, determined which student in our class lived closest to the school, and sent out a posse to haul back the kid’s 2-ton TV. We then all watched the moon landing, enthralled and eternally grateful to Mr. Macrae.

He was that kind of guy. No-nonsense and intelligent and cultured.

The year he taught us, Mr. McRae was new to Macleod. He had just appeared on the playground before the first class of the year, tall and commanding. Rumour had it that he had played Under 19s for the Richmond Football Club, making Mr. McRae just shy of a Greek god. (The actual Greek god was, of course, Carl Ditterich.) He was a standard and excellent teacher. Firm, disciplined and disciplining, but kind, and with a calm and intelligent air of bemusement. He was the boss, but a thoughtful and unpredictable boss. Hence, our class getting to watch the moon landing. And, how else to explain the boxing match?

One day, Mr. McRae inadvertently started a harmless play-scuffle between two students. He then decided the dispute should be settled by a proper boxing match in front of the class. Once, of course, a kid had been sent home to fetch a couple pairs of boxing gloves. We can’t remember whether we lost, although we remember we didn’t win. In any case, neither of us had a clue how to box, and so the match was followed by Mr. McRae giving the class an impromptu lesson on technique. This was, to explain it a little, the era of Lionel Rose and Johnny Famechon and TV Ringside.

That’s all by way of background. The story we want to tell is of a mathematics lesson.

One Friday afternoon, Mr. McRae introduced his grade 4 class to Pythagoras’s theorem. Or, at least, to Pythagorean triples; we can’t specifically remember the triangles, or anything, but undoubtedly \boldsymbol{3^2 + 4^2 = 5^2} made an appearance. Why he showed us this, God only knows, but Mr. McRae ended the class with a challenge: find more triples. Our memory is that the specific challenge was to find a certain number of triples, maybe three, maybe five.

We have no idea what Mr. McRae hoped to achieve with this challenge, but we remember pondering, aimlessly, hoping to find triples. Eventually, by smart persistence and dumb luck, we stumbled upon the trick: doubling a triple gives a new triple. So, \boldsymbol{6^2 + 8^2 = 10^2}, and so on. With this kid-Eureka insight, we then happily spent the week-end doubling away.

Come Monday morning, Mr. McRae asked for the class’s triples. We proudly went to the blackboard and wrote up our largest creation. By memory, it was something in the millions. So,

    \[\boldsymbol{1572864^2 + 2096152^2 = 2621440^2}\]

or thereabouts. And then Mr. McRae uttered the fateful words:

“Let’s check it!”

There were the inevitable groans from the class, and the little Archimedes hero of the story was more popular than ever. But, Mr. McRae was the boss, and so we all set down to multiplying, including Mr. McRae himself. And, ten or so minutes later, the class collectively started to conclude … the equation was wrong. Yep, Little Archimedes had stuffed up. Which led to more fateful words:

“Let’s find the mistake!”

More groans, more multiplying, and eventually the error was found. By memory, after quite a few doubles, somewhere in the mid thousands. And, satisfied, Mr. McRae led the class on to whatever he had been planned for that day.

What is the moral? We have a reason for telling the story, beyond a simple tribute to a great, memorable teacher. We think there are morals there. We’ll leave it for the reader to ponder.