Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Taxing Math

            Hi.  I’m Bob.  And I’m an alcoholic.

             AA really has the right approach.  You can’t get help until you acknowledge your need.

            “Guys I noticed you were having trouble in math today calculating tax.”  I passed out small whiteboards and markers to Landon, Jeremy, and Ramon sitting at the table in front of me.  All three boys have learning disabilities, and the classroom instructions on moving decimals had sailed right past them.

            “When you did the Restaurant Game, you did a good job adding up your orders, but none of you seemed to know how to calculate the tax.  Before you multiply, you have to turn the percent into a decimal.”

            As each boy got their board, they immediately began drawing on it.  Landon scrawled his name in big loopy letters.  Jeremy drew an alien, and Ramon began pounding dots.  I handed everyone a dry eraser and grabbed a board of my own.

            “OK guys, look up here.”  I wrote 6% on my board.  “I want you to change 6% to a decimal.”

            “I need to go to my locker and get my notes from class,” said Ramon.

            “Just stay here,” I said.  You didn’t take notes.  “I’m going to go over whatever you need.”

            “I already know how to do this,” Ramon objected.  “I just need to get my notes from my locker.”

            You didn’t write a single thing down in class.

            I ignored him and continued, “Think of 6% as six cents.  How would you write six cents as money with a decimal?”

            Landon and Jeremy erased their boards and began writing their decimal version of 6%.  Ramon just continued to stab dots on his board.

            “Ramon.  Come on.  Give this a try.”

            “I don’t need to try.  I already know how to do this.  But you won’t let me go to my locker, so I can’t do it.”

            “If you know how to do it, then just show me a couple on your board.” 

            I waited.  I could see both Landon and Jeremy had written .6 on their boards.  They shielded their work waiting for Ramon to write something.  Ramon finally stopped dotting and wrote 6.0 on his board.

            “You’re almost there,” I said.  I wrote .06 on my board and turned it to show the boys.  “See how if I add a dollar sign to this it looks like six cents.”  To the left of .06 I added a dollar sign.

            “Why do I have to do this?” Ramon argued again.  “I know how to do this.”

            I wrote 8% on my board.  “OK guys.  Now try another one.” I turned my board around.  “How would you write 8% as a decimal?”  

            Landon and Jeremy bent their heads down and began writing, but Ramon was now stomping dots on his board.  I reached over and softly tapped his board.

            “Give it a try please.”

            “Is this right?”  Jeremy turned his whiteboard towards me.

            Jeremy had .08 written.  I watched as Landon finished writing .08 on his board. 

            “Just a sec.  Let’s wait for Ramon.”

            Landon and Jeremy turned and looked at Ramon.  He ignored everyone for a minute, but then stopped his stabbing and wrote .8 on his board.

            “That’s not right,” Landon said showing his board to Ramon.  “Make it look like eight cents.”

            Ramon glanced at Landon’s board, then at his own.  He scrawled a dollar sign to the right of .8, and stabbed three dots over it.

            Now it’s money!” Ramon growled.

            I dropped my voice to a lower register.  “Ramon.”  I wrote .08 on my board and turned it around.  “This is how you write 8% as a decimal.”

            “Told you,” Landon said triumphantly.

            “That’s how I wrote it,” said Ramon furiously erasing his board.  “I know how to do this.”

            I blew out a little sigh.  As I wrote 3% on my board, I fantasized Ramon standing earnestly in front of me.

            “Hi. I’m Ramon.  And I have no idea how to do my math.”

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