Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ridiculous Math Questions

Mona Reservoir, Kingston, Jamaica
I thought Math was supposed to teach children to think logically and to use their common sense in assessing whether answers were possible or not. However, when checking math homework, I came across these questions in the Grade 5 “New Integrated Approach Mathematics Workbook” by Powell, Scott and Taylor, published by PST Central Publishers (Jamaica), on page 61:
# 1. The distance around a circular swimming pool is 4.42 km. How far is the outer wall from the centre of the pool?
The answer works out to be 704 metres.  The distance across the pool would be 1408 metres – approximately 5 times the distance between the groynes at Doctor’s Cave Beach. Suppose the pool is 1 m deep,  (a safe depth since anyone getting into difficulties would otherwise drown before a life-guard could reach them), the volume of water in the pool would be 3.14 x 704 x 704 = 1,556,234 cubic metres  = approx. 1,556 million litres  or 411 million US gallons. At NWC rates, this pool would cost Ja $554,641,797.60 to fill. This is a reservoir, not a swimming pool! This distance around the Mona Reservoir is only 2.74 km!
What is the point of this ridiculous question? For children to demonstrate that they can do complicated long division sums, calculate the radius of a circle when given the circumference, and remember to (and how to) convert kilometres to metres? 
Lucea Courthouse with German clock in the tower.
#5. A circular clock in the town square is 125 m in diameter. How far is the outer edge of the clock from its centre?
My questions: What would be the weight of this clock and the mechanism used to make it work? How big is the town square? Is the clock upright or flat on the ground? If it was upright it would be about a third the height of the Empire State Building and at its widest point would fill about half a city block. How far away from it would you have to be to be able to read it? If it was flat on the ground, it couldn’t fit into a space the size of the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. What would be the use of such a clock, anyway? By way of comparison, the dials on Big Ben, one of the biggest clocks in the world, are 7 metres in diameter.
The purpose of this ridiculous question is for children to demonstrate that they know that the radius of a circle is half the diameter and that they can divide 125 by 2. Surely there must be a more sensible way for children to do so. Why not asks a question about the clock in Lucea town square? This book claims to have an integrated approach, why not include some interesting history too? The clock, in the shape of a helmet worn by the German Royal Guard, was intended to be a gift from the people of Germany to the people of St. Lucia. By mistake it was sent to Lucea, Jamaica which had ordered a smaller clock from the same company. The people loved  the clock and raised the extra money to pay for it. The clock was installed in the tower in 1817.
Writers of math text books and teachers, please write sensible problems with realistic measurements that children can relate to, and that can show how math is used in everyday life. These ridiculous questions must surely alienate students who already have a negative attitude towards math. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Children's Books from or about Africa

This is the first of a series of posts I am writing for persons who would like to purchase multicultural books for Jamaican children, and would appreciate suggestions about what is available and appropriate. I hope that this list will also be useful for teachers, librarians, book distributers and corporate donors. This post has 20 books from and about Africa. I have been somewhat arbitrary in my selection, mainly from the website of Africa Access Review. One post cannot cover this vast continent, so there will be a part 2 at some point.
The first 10 books on the list are for younger children (aged 4-7), but not for them to read on their own, because of the level of vocabulary, the sentence structure and the concepts. They are, however, ideal for reading aloud and for discussion.    

1.     Ais for Africa by Ifeoma Onyefulu (Puffin Books 1997)  – good information about Nigeria, suitable for Jamaican Basic Schools.  Ifeoma Onyefulu has written many more beautifully illustrated books for this age group.
2.     The Magic Gourd by Baba Wague Diakite (Scholastic 2003)  - a folktale from Mali about kindness and generosity. Good for reading aloud to 4 – 7 year-olds. 
3.     A Gift from Childhood by Baba Wague Diakite (Groundwood Books 2010) - a story about traditional village life in Mali. 
4.     KenteColors by Debbi Chocolate (Walker Children’s 1997) - about the traditional kente cloth of the Ashante people of Ghana  
5.     Handa’s Hen by Eileen Browne (Candlewick 2011) – a simple counting story set in Kenya.   
6.     Catch That Goat by Polly Alakija (Barefoot Books 2002) – set in Nigeria, a goat gets away and runs through the town’s market. Grade 1 children should be able to read this simple story on their own. Younger children could tell the story from the illustrations.
7.     Babu’s Song by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen (Lee and Low Books 2003) – with the help of Babu, his mute grandfather, Bernard is able to go to school.
8.     Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber (Henry Holt and Co 2009) – living in an orphanage on the border of Somalia and Kenya, Muktar remembers the time when he lived with his family and the camels.  This book would also be of interest to older children who could read it for themselves. 
9.     Zeraffa Giraffa by Quarto Generic (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2014) – the amazing  true story of  Zeraffa, a giraffe who was sent as a gift by the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt to King Charles X of France in 1826. 
10.  Circle Unbroken by Margo Theis Raven (Square Fish 2007) – the story of how the art of basket-making was taken from Africa to the Carolinas. Is there a similar story of the way in which the art of basket-making was brought to Jamaica?  

   The following 10 books are suitable for children aged 8-12 to read on their own.
1.     Sundiata:Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski. (HMH Books for Young Readers; 1999) In the thirteenth century, Sundiata overcame physical handicaps, social disgrace, and strong opposition to rule the West African trading empire of Mali. A good book for teachers to read aloud to grades 2 & 3 children, and for older children to read on their own. 
2.     The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo (Harper Trophy 2002) – 2 children are smuggled out of Nigeria when their mother is killed in political unrest. The difficulties they face as refugees in London.  This story won a Carnegie Medal UK and many other awards.  
3.    Nelson Mandela The Long Walk to Freedom by Chris Van Wyk and Nelson Mandela (Macmillan 2009) – an abridged version of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. 
4.     The No.1 Car Spotter by Atinuke  (Kane Miller Book Pub; June 2011) – No 1 is bright, plucky and resourceful – a fantastic character for Atinuke’s new series
5.     How the Leopard got his Claws by Chinua Achebe (Candlewick Press 2011)  – a fable about the dangers of power taken by force.
6.     The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (Dial Books for Young Readers 2012)the true story of how this author, as a teenager, built a functional windmill from junkyard scraps in Malawi.  
7.     Pharoah’s Boat by David Weitzman (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children 2009) - the story of how one of the greatest boats of ancient Egypt came to be built.
8.     Seeds of Change – Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Johnson (Lee and Low Books 2010) - tree planting movement in Kenya spearheaded by Wangari Maathai and other women, and opposed by government and multinationals. 
9.     Bintou’s Braids by Sylviane Diouf  (Chronicle Books 2001)– a young girl in West Africa is in a hurry to grow up, but she learns that she must earn her braids. 
10.  Mystery of MeerkatHill by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor 2013) – one of several children’s detective stories, about Precious Ramotswe, set in Botswana.