Pasta and Math

My son is the sixth grade, which here in Egypt is a ‘diploma’ year. It basically means that…well, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what it means. I thought it meant that if he failed his finals he would be held back, but then someone told me they allow them to retake the exams if they fail. And if that is the case, then what of all the non-‘diploma’ years? If they failed those would they still be promoted to the next year? None of it sounds right to me, but that’s because I didn’t attend school here, so I just don’t get it.

Regardless of what it means, it is a lot of stress on the kids and on the parents. The majority of the middle-class people in this country send their kids to private schools, then pay even more money for private tutors in most subjects. I am against that; the day I sign him up for private tutoring is the day I pull him out of private school. We’re not at that stage, yet, but I think it’s obvious that the education system here…how do I put this…well, it sucks. There is no other way to put it. I attended public school in America from kindergarten through high school…and now when I hear people complain about the quality of education in The States, I just want to tell them to thank God for the blessing they have!  I was so fortunate to get that education, and I mean that sincerely. I was taught to think, to problem solve, to work with others in finding solutions…The only thing my kids are being taught, is how to memorize. And to be honest, they don’t even teach them the ‘how’ part…the system just wants them to do it!

Anyway…so I was helping my son study math the other day. He’s learning about volume. So the question asks him something like: If we have a large box of volume 1000 cm3, how many small cubes of volume 10 cm3 can we fit into it? I read the question to him a couple of times, sculpting the box and cubes in the air with my hands, trying to get him to visualize it. He looks at me as though I’m speaking an incomprehensible Alien language. I stand for a few seconds trying to figure out how I can better explain it to him.

But just then I had to drain the pasta so it wouldn’t over cook. So as I pour the pasta into the colander, I have an idea!

“Look!” I say to him. “If I know the volume of this colander, and I know the volume of every individual piece of pasta, how can I figure out how many pieces there are?” So now he doesn’t need to imagine the question in his head…its actually right in front of him. And I can see the gears in his head turning. And in my mind I’m cheering him on, “Say divide! Come on! Say divide!”

The gears continue to turn. He’s thinking.

“Say divide! Say divide!” I keep mentally cheering him on.

And all of a sudden I see the light go on in his head. “YES!” I’m thinking, “Here it comes…he’s going to say divide! We’ve got it!”

And he jumps up in his chair and says….

“I can count the pieces!”



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