I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to mathematics text books.
Perhaps it’s inherent in teaching mathematics, but I battle to enthuse my students and to inculcate best practice in problem-solving skills. This is especially the case with fourteen and fifteen year olds, most of whom have resigned themselves to wrongly believing that mathematics is not for them.
I got to thinking that levity might be the catalyst to push them over the hurdle of their disinterest, so I opted for a game show format peppered with ‘product endorsement’.
For best results, I did not inform them in advance of my intention.
The lesson was planned, the script written, posters created and the woodwork teacher was commissioned to manufacture three rostrums. They were flimsy, made of thin plywood, but they would serve their intended purpose. Tom, another mathematics teacher, was keen to assist on the day.
The eventful time arrived. Students nonchalantly entered the room, glancing at the posters on the walls and at the rostrums near the front. When all were seated and waiting for me to arrive, the room’s intercom came to life.
‘Tonight Show’ music played, followed by the voice of Tom.
“Hello, audience,” Tom spoke quickly and with excitement.
“I’m Al Titude. Welcome to ‘What’s The Math Deal?’, everyone’s favourite maths show coming to you nightly, coast to coast.”
The class was puzzled and remained quiet.
Tom continued his introduction in the best tradition of a booth announcer.
“And now put your hands together for the host with the most, Perry Mitter.”
Dressed in flamboyant garb, I entered the room half running, looking at the class with one arm waving and a microphone in the other. Recorded applause blared through the speaker.
Some students laughed and whispered to each other. Was it my outlandish outfit or did they pick up on the math name puns; Al Titude (altitude) and Perry Mitter (perimeter)?
“Thank you, thank you all so much,” I said, after the ‘applause’ had stopped.
“We have a great show for you tonight, with fabulous prizes and contestants,” I uttered excitedly. “But first, a word from our sponsor. Take it away, Al.”
I swung my arms in unison. Tom’s voice came through loud, almost frenzied.
“Thank you, Perry. You know, Math students are cool. They won’t order an electric dog shaver because they know dogs don't shave. But they will want to order PrimeTime, an exhaustive book devoted to the fascinating world of prime numbers. An indispensable read for those who must know the difference between primes and composites, and why the number 1 is not prime. Available now at your friendly schoolbook store. Act now!”
“Back to you, Perry,” Tom announced.
“Welcome back. Now we come to the most exciting part of the show,” I said, looking at the class. “I’ll ask questions to choose three members from our studio audience to play. Everyone ready?”
My audience was now alert, wanting to participate.
“Question One. Why are circles round?”, I asked.
Anna raised her hand. She replied with, “Because they have a middle.”
“I’ll forgive you for that tautology, but you’re contestant number 1. Come on down!” I beckoned her.
Anna quickly walked to stand behind the first rostrum.
“Second Question,” I continued. “How long is a piece of string?”
David raised his hand and called out confidently, “twice as long as half of it.”
“For being a ‘smart alec’, you’re the second contestant,” I answered him. David went to stand behind the middle rostrum.
“Now for our third player. The question is, if it takes 2 minutes to dig a hole, how long will it take to dig half a hole?”
Nina called out, “One minute,” but I indicated that she was wrong by forming X with my fingers.
Paula came to life. “A half hole is still a whole hole,” she articulated.
“Contestant three. Come on down,” I smiled. The class applauded.
“Now a few more words from our sponsor,” I exclaimed.
Al’s (aka Tom) voice piped through the speaker.
“Are you tired of failing Math? Is Calculus, Trigonometry and Algebra just too much to handle?”, he began.
“Then consider hiring us at Stop Me Educational, the leaders in Math Education. When you engage our services, a trained professional will ensure that you are grounded. You will be locked in your room and encouraged to do all your Math homework.”
Tom’s voice was now at high pitch.
“If you can’t do the work, appropriate textbooks will be thrown at you, and if you are still struggling, then for an exorbitant fee, we will do your homework while you go out to play. How good is that?” Tom added as hyperbole.
“But you must ring now. This is a limited-time offer. Yes, it's limited to as many sales as we can make! So, what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone now. Remember, Stop Me Educational are experts in stopping your education.”
“Thanks, Al,” I said, turning so that I could see the contestants and the class at the same time.
“The aim of the game is simple. The first person to answer two questions correctly will receive the major prize. A correct answer scores 1 point, an incorrect answer is -1 points. Before you answer, make a beep noise. Here we go.”
“Question 1,” I began with as much imitation of the style of a quiz host as I could imitate.
“What does it mean to say that, at a party, the ratio of boys to girls is 1:2?”
“Beep, beep,” came from David almost immediately.
“David, what is your answer?” I asked.
“Every boy has two dates. I want to go to that party!”. Laughter followed, especially from me.
“Correct,” I said.
“Question 2. What word starting with ‘a’ is the correct mathematical term for a shape consisting of two concentric circles?”
Paula ‘beeped’ to answer.
“It’s an anus, ah , no I mean, an annulus,” she managed to blurt out with embarrassment and red cheeks, prompting more laughter.
“Correct, Paula. Now, to question 3,” I stated, barely able to suppress my amusement with what just occurred.
“What name is given to 10 raised to the power 100?”
This time, Anna ‘beeped’ to be heard.
“It’s google,” she spoke excitedly.
“Google is an internet search engine, Anna. The word is googol. Bu we’ll accept your answer,” I generously explained.
“Each of you has 1 point. This is the tie breaker,” I informed them.
“I will ask the same question to each of you for your response. Here we go.”
Looking at the question paper in my hand, I read out, “What is LCM?”
I turned to Anna. “Anna, what’s your answer?”
“Litres, Centimetres and Metres,” she guessed.
“David, what do you think?”, I asked.
David hesitated. “Eh, a chocolate bar?”
I now faced Paula. “Paula, what do you say?” I asked.
“Lowest Common Multiple,” she correctly answered.
I paused for as long as I thought it takes to create an air of expectancy, just as they do in TV soap operas.
“Paula, you’ve won the grand prize,” I suddenly called out.
There were cheers and clapping from the audience.
I motioned for the applause to stop.
I said, “Al, tell Paula what she has won.”
“Congratulations, Paula,” Al commenced.
“You’ve won a copy of the book Pi, What Is It?, which will cease publication when the last digit of pi is found."
The book is a 500 page glossy presentation that lists in incredibly informative detail the first 1,000,000 digits of pi. It is personally autographed by Kevin Leighton, the man who read every digit individually to make sure everything is correct. Excuse his misshapen signature, but he is currently receiving eye therapy,” Al (aka Tom) announced.
“Paula, just imagine what you can do with this information? At your next family gathering, what better entertainment can there be than for you to stand up and recite the first 50,000 digits of pi? You can almost hear the enthusiastic applause of your guests and their cries of ‘encore, maestro’. The perfect thing that will become a family heirloom,” Tom concluded.
I began to clap, and the class joined in.
“Thank you,” I said, calming them with a motion of my hands. “Our next venue will take us from a quiz show to a soap opera set in a school. It will focus on a dedicated mathematics teacher and his tireless efforts to teach math to a group of misfits. Until then, good night."