Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Don't tell me that math isn't hilarious!

During a recent trip to two Brooklyn Middle Schools that include fifth grade, Anne, Kristan, Mark, Rachel and I talked with the directors about the element of play and whether it continued to be present for fifth graders in their schools. One director told us that he wished there was more play in his school. He meant, not only more recess time, but also more of a sense of play in the classroom. I thought of this conversation last Friday during our math lesson. Here’s Aidan, during math class.

Aidan, Bela, Ben and Celine had counted out twenty green tiles, twenty-five red tiles, and thirty brown before putting them into a paper bag.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the problem that your fifth grade took home last week: How many tiles do you need to pick out of the bag to be absolutely sure you will get three brown tiles?

Most of your children thought this must be a probability problem, since that’s what we’ve been studying.

Unfortunately, the problem had the words “absolutely sure,”… a concept we labeled “absolutability,” although “certainty” is probably the correct term.

Anne explained that it was very unlikely that you would have to pick forty-eight tiles in order to pick three brown tiles out of the bag, but that “it could happen.”

The children reproduced the problem using three different colored tiles hidden in a paper bag.

Aidan reached into the bag three times, and each time, he picked out a brown. Talk about improbable. He howled with laughter each time he picked out a tile. I was there. I caught it.

We’re determined that delight is something we will protect as fifth grade moves to Middle School. Our mission: to make certain that the odds of delight increase throughout Middle School, not just in fifth grade. We want it to be beyond probable. We want to make “absolutely certain” that this is the case. Jane

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