Buying a Car – A Math Lesson

I’ve been back at it in grade 8 for two days and I’m thinking I can get used to this part-time teaching gig!  My schedule is such that I work Monday-Tuesday in grade 8 and Friday in grade 7; this works for me and my family and I certainly do love having two days off with my girl in between work days.  So far, sooo good!

My Monday and Tuesday this week were fantastic.  I was a bit hesitant to walk back into the classroom after 17 months off, but it truly felt right in every way.  My usual plan of attack for getting to know my students is to abandon all academics and just BE with one another for a while. This group is high needs and diverse in every way, but isn’t that the case with all classrooms, really?  My job share partner, Leah, and a handful of other teachers and adults in our building, have done a phenomenal job creating an environment in which our students can be successful in their own ways.  For this reason I decided to bravely try a little math lesson I whipped up the night before.

CarACarBI realize it’s not a perfect math question.  There are pieces of information missing and not a lot of direction.  I panicked a little as my students moved into pairs and started to read the question.  Hands immediately went up and I thought, “Oh no…I wasn’t clear enough! What was I thinking!?”  And then something really cool happened…differentiation.

My students, every single one of them, took this question and ran with it in a way that they were capable of.  One of my students really needs to be challenged in math, so he took ownership of this question and he calculated the costs for both vehicles over the duration of five years (he was really keen on getting me the best deal over a long period of time).  Another student saw the word “electric” and decided that was the best choice for the earth no matter what the cost was.  Two girls, who love my daughter and all other babies, were primarily concerned with how the financials would work out for my family and would it be the right vehicle for my daughter’s needs.  Another pair was totally caught up on resale value and the brands of the vehicles in question (details I didn’t actually provide on paper, but did in person to this group in order to help them make their choice).  And yet another student just couldn’t make up his mind because to him absolutely any car would be awesome.

I watched this “real life” math question unfold over the span of about twenty minutes before most students started to lose interest, so I refocused them with this question, “So, what car should I get?”  They replied, “Well, you won’t listen to our decisions anyhow so what does it matter?”  I then continued to explain that this question is actually a real life situation my husband and I are facing right now – Car A or Car B?  The lesson continued.

“Well, do you currently own one of the cars?” (Yes, I own car B).

“Well, could you sell car B to make up some of the cost and then buy car A?” (Yes, that’s kind of the plan…)

“Well, what if you just don’t get any of the cars and take the bus?” (Been there, done that.  That chapter of my life is over, children!)

It was awesome.  My class was totally hooked for twenty-five minutes.  In the end we did a vote and it was a tie, thanks to the one student who couldn’t decide which car was best for me.  Later that evening I told my husband, Joel, how the lesson went.  He agreed and disagreed with the points my students made and he was impressed by their depth and insight surrounding this topic.  On Monday I need to revisit this lesson with my class and tell them this: You know what, guys?  I totally value your opinion and I am grateful for your insight into which car you think would be best for my family, both financially and economically.  You all raised some points Joel and I did not actually consider.  You think I don’t care about your opinions, but I do…so stay tuned to find out which car we end up buying!

Man, it is so good to be back at it.


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