Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Math the nth degree...

There are some things you just adore hearing as a parent--stuff like "thanks, Mom", or "this is the best (dinner/vacation/fill-in-the-blank) EVER", or even "yeah, I did (designated chore) already". You'll notice that nowhere among those delightful phrases was anything remotely resembling "Hey, I need you to come sign this paper that says you're aware I'm failing Math." Nope, definitely N-O-T on my list of all-time favorite expressions, especially when delivered in a deadpan voice by my 14-year old son, who pokes his head in the door to my bedroom briefly before nonchalantly strolling back to his own...possibly-soon-to-be-locked-dungeon.

Perhaps a bit of background is in order. In July, when we visited the Guidance department to discuss Derek's schedule for his Freshman year, the counselor noted that Math 9 might initially pose some problems. You see, Maryland isn't yet adhering across-the-board to the Common Core Curriculum, so Derek's instruction last year differed from what his peers were covering in North Carolina in 8th grade. Therefore, as it was explained to us, there might be some "gaps" in his knowledge, things that might be review for other students, but that he'd have to catch up on, in order to follow what the class was learning. (Um....yippeeeee...)

To complicate matters further, we've now officially reached the point where I may--or just as likely may not--be able to help him with his homework. I mean, it's been a looooong time since I've had to do any of this nonsense...I mean "stimulating and challenging...number-type stuff". Case in point: one night he had to factor polynomials. Great! I used to looovvvve that--it's like a puzzle, and you just have to figure out where the numbers go, and put the right signs in, and....I know, I know. "Nerd Alert". So I demonstrated my strategy for tackling the procedure...and he came home the next day reporting "we did it ALL wrong!" (Yet was he able to explain how we messed up? Or show me the correct method? Or give me any clue whatsoever about what his teacher wanted? Of course not! Ugh...I curse you once again, Teenage Boy Brain...) Even better, the next night he popped in to casually inquire if I remembered how to write an "equation in geometric form". Wait, I'm sorry, what? I understand all of those words individually, but strung together like that, they're just...gibberish. (Incidentally, he now knows it's "a times b to the x power". Well, good for you, sweetie...I'll just take your teacher's word for it...)

Anyway, you can imagine what we're dealing with, here. It was already a state of...Mild Mathematical Mayhem. But then...the first test descended upon our shoulders. (Cue ominous music, flashes of lightning, dark, scary...geometric...beast lurking, ready to pounce...or is that too dramatic? I'm telling ya, numbers can be a nightmare, man...) And Derek was still confused about several of the key concepts he knew would be appearing on the exam. Oh, and it was the NIGHT BEFORE. Naturally. It was also a soccer practice evening, so it ended up being about 9:15 before we figured out that he had questions I couldn't address for him, and I got a chance to email his teacher. Fortunately, the Open House had taken place just a few days prior, when I'd met the lovely Mrs. R in person. During her presentation, she explicitly stated that she was "almost always available for extra help before school". So in my note I basically apologized for bothering her...and for the last-minute nature of my correspondence...and gave her a gentle heads-up that Derek would be greeting her first thing in the morning for some 11th-hour-test-prep-tutoring.

So a plan was hatched: drive Derek to campus early, skipping all of the wasted time walking to the bus stop, standing around, picking up other kids, blah blah blah. As he was exiting the car in front of the school, he leaned down and asked, as if it suddenly occurred to him,"What if she's not there?" My advice reflected equal parts determination...and desperation: "Well, then, you hang out there and wait for her to arrive...for today, you're a...Math Stalker!" "Oh....kay," he replied as he ambled off in search of arithmetic enlightenment. Aaaaannnd, apparently it didn't entirely work, as he scored a 71...which in this enchanting world of the 7-point scale...equals a D. (Please, you don't even want to get me started on a rant about the grading system...that's a whole...other...diatribe for an upcoming post...let me take a moment to beg forgiveness in advance...)

Now we're caught up to the "acknowledge my sucky grade" moment. In truth, he was exaggerating quite a bit (whew!) because his overall score so far isn't THAT fact, it would be a B...on a "normal scale". (Sigh....) But it looks like we're going to be managing the "hey, what'd I miss" issue for a while. And perhaps I should just go ahead and write to his teacher again, warning her that she may be spending a good deal of quality before-school time with Derek, bonding over...whatever crazy incomprehensible topic they happen to be covering in upcoming lessons. If this is going to become a regular thing, maybe I'll start sending him in with muffins for their 8:00 meetings...that could only help out the cause, right? Mmm, and definitely some extra coffee for his chauffeur...squared...

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