I am Mr. Farmer

A hand goes up: “Mr. Farmer, I don’t understand number two.” It takes me a minute to focus on the problem because I’m thinking about how strange it is to be called “Mr. Farmer”. When did I become old?

The problem is very similar to number one, so I ask the student which part is confusing them. “This one is in minutes, but number one was in seconds!” I ask if they know how to convert minutes into seconds, they shake their head no. I ask them how many seconds are in a minute. Without hesitation, they answer sixty. I ask them how many seconds are in two minutes. Again, without hesitation, they answer 120. This actually surprises me a bit, as some students are using calculators to multiply numbers by 10. At this point I say: “See, you know how to convert minutes into seconds!” With a sheepish grin, the student finishes problem two. That went pretty well.

I’m a grad student in computer science, and I’m working with an 8th grade math class at Landon Middle School in Topeka. The school is about what I had expected, neither brand new nor particularly run down. The children, on the other hand, seem much younger than I had anticipated. The classroom obviously belongs to a math teacher, with posters of pi and the order of operations on the wall. My teacher has great rapport with her students, and I honestly had expected more discipline issues than I experienced. Some wanted to talk through the entire lesson, but no one was actually resistant to doing the math when the time came.

The hardest part for me was picking up the vocabulary of an eighth grade math course. We worked on probability (marbles in a bag) and velocity (calculating distance based on rate and time, or time based on distance and rate). It seemed that the students could handle the basic algebra required to solve for a variable, but sometimes struggled with fractions. I made the mistake at one point of trying to explain that the fraction bar was simply division that hadn’t been done yet, which was met with unsure looks. Maybe Mr. Farmer was trying to confuse them.

Overall, my first day was a great experience. The students are enthusiastic, and I feel more confident about what to talk about during my first lesson next week. I’m going to have to work on my delivery though, as one student told me during a break that: “you look like you should have a British accent.”

Cheers!