Saturday, March 13, 2010

4000 x 4000 x 6000

Last Friday, our seventh grade buddies came to see us. We've seen them about five times so far since we began, and it is delightful every time. The classroom becomes quiet, as both second and seventh graders get nervous to see each other, and they work together shyly, but with kindness.

The second graders had each prepared two questions to ask their buddies to get to know them better. When they arrived, 4 little boys and 3 big boys went into the half-classroom next to ours to meet. When I walked in, Anton was writing furiously on his index card while his buddy watched from the other end of a long table. Anton hadn't finished writing his questions ahead of time, and his buddy's distanced body language prompted me to walk in their direction right away.

"Anton," I said, "you don't have to write your questions down now. TJ is here, in front of you, so you can just ask him your questions. Writing them down was to help you remember them."

"Oh," he said, surprised. "Okay."

He looked down at his card, and I beckoned TJ to come closer.

"What is 4000 times 4000 times 6000?" Anton asked. When you are eight, 4000 times 4000 times 6000 is about the hardest problem you can think of.

"These are supposed to be questions to help you get to know TJ!" I laughed.

"But this is what I want to know," Anton protested.

"Why don't you ask him about his favorite things, or his family," I suggested.

"OK," he answered enthusiastically. Anton is a great conversationalist. He turned to TJ. "Where is your favorite fun place to go?"

TJ looked uncertain. "What do you mean? What kind of place?" he asked warily. This was a seventh grader who was not so sure about hanging out with second graders.

"I mean," Anton explained, waving his hands around as he talked, "Which do you like better, the circus, or the carnival, or the garden?"

"What do you mean by the garden?" I asked.

"You know, that big place where -- I can't remember what they're called, but they play hockey there," he said.

"You mean the TD Banknorth Garden?" TJ asked.

"Yes!" said Anton.

"Hmmm," TJ thought. "I think I like the Garden best."

"Yeah," Anton said. "I went to see Disney On Ice there. It was great. But, if you had to choose between the circus and the carnival, which would you choose?"

They continued their chat. Anton could be a talk show host. He is warm, loving, personable, and charming, and he drew TJ out as if he were the middle schooler and TJ were a shy eight-year-old. After awhile, they turned to a book they were reading together. I walked back next door.

When I returned a few minutes later, all 7 boys were clustered around a small round table in the middle of the room. The seventh graders were involved in a vigorous discussion of -- you guessed it -- 4000 times 4000 times 6000. The second graders were watching, fascinated.

They easily got 16,000,000, but then there were a lot of zeros to keep track of. They decided to put aside the zeros for now, and to concentrate on 16 times 6. They didn't have paper or pencil, so they were debating how to solve it mentally. Some solved 15 times 6, then added 6 more. Some did 10 times 6, then 6 times 6, and added the products. I got out a white board marker and handed it to them so they could figure out the zeros. They thought they knew the answer, but wanted to check it in writing.

I asked them questions as they worked. The second graders started inventing more hard problems. Their heads turned from left to right as they watched the seventh graders.

"Man," Anton said as they finished. "They are SMART!" I had to agree.