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Maths Tests and Other Questions

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.

And 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 but, 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 subconsciously.

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 1/1461?

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