Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Not Sneaky Enough

Last day in the math class. They had a test. I didn't plan it that way; that's just how it worked out.

Brandon was one of the reasons I modified the seating chart. He and three others sat in the back far corner, getting into their own conversations while I went over the material. They knew it all already. They took algebra last year. Never mind that they failed it--the reason they had to repeat it this year.

Brandon, by sheer luck of the draw, ended up in a front row seat.

I passed out the tests and they got started. Brandon raised his hand.

"Am I supposed to add these?"

The test was on exponents, and knowing whether to add or multiply was the point of the question. I replied with a, "That's what you're supposed to know," and I moved on.

Brandon called me over a few more times. All his questions had to do with how to do the problems.

"Is this one right?"

I did not answer.

The fifth time he called me over, his neighbor remarked, "It's a test. She's not going to answer you."

(I will clarify directions. Sometimes the copy is bad or something is unclear. There can be mistakes on the test. So, I do respond to raised hands during a test. To a point.)

Brandon was one of the last students done. He spent ten minutes checking over his answers.

After I had all the tests, I released the students from the imposed silence. I gathered the tests, paperclipped them, and put them away. Brandon pulled out his notes.

"Wait. Can I check something on my test?"

He explained that in the rush to finish, he had written the wrong answer for a problem. "I did it right, but I just wrote the wrong thing in the answer column." So, I said I'd check.

The problem:

Under it he wrote 1/-2. In the answer column, he did indeed write -2.

The answer should have been 1/2. I would have given it to him except for that pesky negative sign. (I spent quite a bit of time explaining that a negative exponent means "take the reciprocal" and that the resulting answer is NOT negative. Adding the negative sign makes the answer wrong.)

I informed Brandon that he got it wrong. I explained why.

"Let me see... No, it's right. See, it's positive. Right. There."

As he leaned over me with his pencil and added a small vertical line over the top of the small horizontal one already on his paper.

Geez. Does he think I'm that stupid? I marked it wrong right then and there.

And after all that, it turns out that Brandon only missed three or four questions on the test. He got a B.


  1. A "B" is a wonderful grade. An "A" is earned when one does "exceptional" work (which he failed to do). It sounds to me like you did a great job in teaching him this lesson.

  2. LOL! Well at least he's a go-getter. That can get you far in this life. ;)

  3. Math is a four-letter word to me, and THAT, my friend, is why you do what you do, and I do what I do! LOL!

  4. Geez, I guess he doesn't have a high opinion of you. Who would write a positive answer with a plus next to it anyway?

  5. I had a student who used to do that with every test/quiz/homework assignment. She was always asking "is this right?"

    I, too, would respond to raised hands to clarify directions when needed.

    And I'm with Pat...math for me is the worst four letter word ever. I salute you.


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