Friday, October 14, 2005


cipher also cypher (si-fer) - 1. The mathematical symbol (0) denoting absence of quantity; zero 2. An Arabic numeral or figure; number v. -phered, -phering, -phers 1. to put in secret writing; encipher 2. To solve by means of arithmetic

In high school I had an Algebra teacher named Mr. Cypher. (I know!) He was my adversary, my antagonist. I hated Algebra. I could do "algebra-like" problems in my chemistry and physics class no problem, but when it came to doing algebra for algebra's sake - no way.

I love math now. There is nothing greater than mathematical formulas. Especially fake ones like here. Math is funny.

But back then, it all came down to this. I could not seem to show my work. You know that whole "show your work" thing, right? Well, this was the bone of contention between Mr. Cypher and me. I could get the right answer most of the time, but he wanted to see how.

We once got in a yelling match because he would not believe me that I actually did my homework instead of copying the answers from someone else. He made me get up in front of the class to show him how I did it, and write it all out on the board.

So, after he gave me the problem. I told them all to shut their eyes (because that is how I have to do math - I can't have any distraction) and verbally walked them through the problem. Without showing my work. AND I GOT THE RIGHT ANSWER!

Even after all of that he would not let up. I barely passed that class. I actually had to take Algebra II twice because of him. Oddly enough, I was able to pass through the advanced chem and physics no problem.

I also went on to work in a Finance company later in life. Using algebra. Getting it right. Ha.

Now on to the point of my story.

Maya is in 3rd grade and brought some of her Math papers home the other day. We have what is called the WASL's here. (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) The kids take this test in 4th, 7th, and 10th grade. By the time Maya is in 10th grade, she will have to pass the WASL to graduate from high school.

The WASL is all about showing your work.

Here is Maya's work. I so understand her. They want you to show your math work, plus write out your reasoning. She can pop you out an answer, right most of the time, without showing her work. But look what happens.....

Thomas rode his bike 23 miles on Thursday and 31 miles on Friday. How many more miles must he ride to reach his total of 81 miles?

23+31=54 miles 54+42=81 miles

"First, I put down the numbers that I saw on the storyproblem and I got 54 miles. Then, I used math to help me solve the problem. Last, I added it all up 54 miles and Thomas has to do 42 more miles to get 81 miles."

At dinner last night, I asked her the same question. As she was biting into her pizza, she screwed up her eyes, thought for a second, and then said, "27".

We are wired funny I guess.


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