Mathematical Madness

‘I’ve given you a maze to do. You have to find the equivalent fractions and make your way through the maze.’

Ok. Let’s go! Print button pressed. Delph sat next to me smiling at the computer. She’d been having a cracking maths class so far. They’d been playing a fraction version of Connect Four. Actual fun! During the week, I’d been upping the maths practice and Delph was working steadily through. Homework was getting done. Equivalent fractions turning into our bag.

Then, out of nowhere, Delphine panicked. Suddenly she couldn’t remember the fraction rules. Multiplication became addition and common denominators started getting added together. Delph’s knowledge of the times table began to fail her. She blinked. Rubbed it out, wrote the numbers again, then put a big cross through the scrawled pencil. It was clear – dreaded maths panic had set in.

Delphine’s class-time meltdown was upsetting to see. I didn’t realise how fragile her confidence could be. One little hammer strike and the whole thing cracked. I went under the table, picking the pieces frantically up.

Meanwhile, Delph’s maths teacher was giving the class time to complete the task. Usually the pupil’s chat box in the InterHigh classroom whirs away like birds’ feet on the keyboard. Now it was silent.

‘Ok, breathe Delph.’

She stopped. We stared at the piece of paper and started again – slowly. Each box in the maze had a number of arrows pointing in different directions and each arrow had a potential answer. Huh, I realised – and I’m no mathematician – one box didn’t have the correct answer attached to it.

We tried again. No joy. I wrote a private message to the teacher. She wrote back after a few moments, giving us complicated instructions. Hmmm. That wasn’t right. We tried another question. Again, each arrow had an answer that was different to the one we got. I wrote to the teacher again.

’You need to simplify the fraction, Delphine,’ she replied. She was writing to Delphine – since during her lessons I work as a silent presence, a parental ghost of sorts. A ghost that likes to speak.

‘But you haven’t taught us simplifying fractions yet.’

’Yes I have – go back to week 16 and look at the short video.’

Ok. My turn for a deep breath. A short video? We’d been doing fractions for weeks and she was palming off fraction simplification with a short video?

I could hear her fingers moving manically over the keyboard. A second later, another message pinged up in Delph’s private chat box. ‘It’s the same as working out equivalent fractions.’

Yeah, maybe in principle I thought. It’s still conceptually different. Worth explaining to the class surely and getting them to do specific simplifying exercises. You know, since these kids were going to do it in school as long as they did fractions. And now I had a kid with broken confidence and a confused look on her face.

Both of us. Deep breaths. On our own again.


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