Math Tests and Other Questions
29 February 2004
Hello from Namibia,
Year two is in high gear now and things here are
going pretty well. My teaching is
going good. I just finished the
very fun topic of “probability” with my 12th graders.
It was the first time any of them had seen the topic so I had to had to
start from scratch with them (although, that’s not so unusual, even if they
have seen a topic before). I brought cards, dice and checkers pieces to class and showed
them the concept of chance and odds. They
were very impressed with my “bridge” shuffling ability but didn’t seem
quite as taken with the idea of being able to calculate the probability of
rolling an even number on an unbiased die or, God forbid, rolling two even
numbers in a row. Anyway, some
people did very well and some, well, their probability of getting an A on their
math exam is pretty close to zero.
I also snuck some “time”
onto the test I gave them. Did you
know that if Barry goes to bed at 11:10pm on Saturday and wakes up at 7:25am on
Sunday, that he slept for 8 hours and 15 minutes?
You did! That’s great, you clearly understand using the 12-hour system,
the idea that sometime around midnight the hours reset and the day changes, and
that having a calculator isn’t going to do you much good for this problem.
Here in Namibia they use both the 12 and 24-hour clocks, hardly any of
the kids have watches, bells announce the classes and mealtimes, the calculators
are never wrong and my rooster calls pretty damn early.
Actually, in a nice twist, if it weren’t for TV (and its regularly
schedules programs), my learners would probably be even more abysmally clueless
at “time.” The quick ones don’t have any trouble, but in general, this
is just one more of the thousands of places where the “traditional” and
“developed” cultures meet. And,
if I may take the chance to make a cheesy and nerdy analogy, the cultures
meet much like tectonic plates. Sometimes
they meet and soar to majestic heights and sometimes they meet and one
inevitable and irreversibly ends up on top, sending the other into the forgotten
deep. Of course, in either case
there are plenty of tremors long the way, i.e. clothes that don’t quite match
and bad test grades.
while we are on the topic of colliding cultures, let me tell you about the Miss
Valentine pageant that was held a few weeks ago here at Ekulo.
Last year Sera and I were judges at this annual event; this year I was a
judge again. This time around I was
prepared for all the glitz and glamour that seems to come out of the woodwork.
There were seven 8th and 9th graders angling for
the top position of “Miss Valentine 2004” But I mustn’t gloss over the
rest of the top spots, including the “First Princess,” the “Second
Princess,” and finally the “Miss Personality.”
The five rounds of the pageant were interspersed with talent show type
acts that ranged from entertaining antics to crotch-grabbing booty-shaking
displays lip syncing madness (is that the ceiling caving in?).
At any rate, it was a lot of fun and I was at least able to bring some
class to the infamous question round. Last
year Sera and I were caught somewhat off guard and had to come up with questions
that the contestants had to answer on the spot in
front of the whole dining hall. We
made up passable questions that would make the girls think a bit and show their
true colors, so to speak. The other
judges, however, asked not so passable questions including “what is the
meaning of Valentines Day” (uhh, Hallmark needs to move those cards) and
factual questions that had right and wrong answers.
So this year I came prepared with, appropriately enough, The Book of
Questions and passed it around to the other judges.
The caliber of the questions blew the audience away; waves of furtive
whispers sounded after each question was asked.
My favorites include: “If you could change yourself to be either very
intelligent or very beautiful, which would you choose?” (very beautiful) and
“what would you do if you want to do something but your friends advise against
it?” (not do it). I liked some of
the answers very much
as a judge, I was looking to see how confidently and clearly they responded.
The girls all looked very nice dolled up and walked the “catwalk”
like pros but in the end we five judges picked Saara Ndjambula to wear the
crown. Did I mention that the
learners here look a lot different when they aren’t wearing their uniforms?
It turns out that Saara sits directly in front of me eleven times every
seven days but didn’t realize it at the time, maybe I picked her
This week I am going to be
attending a workshop for my keyboarding and word-processing class.
It is taking place in Okahandja, which is about four-fifths of the way to
Windhoek. This workshop comes at a
good time as I am scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to teaching a
computer class without computers. Hopefully
they will come the week after the workshop and the Prophesy of the Computer Lab
(revealed by the Principal to us circa AD 2002) will finally be fulfilled after
all these long years and months. I
also managed to round up a copy of the textbook for the class after two weeks of
pestering the local bookstore to ship a copy up from their Windhoek branch.
Yours in Education,
P.S. Did you know that the probability of being born on 29 February is