Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: REDUCE (11/05/15)
- TITLE: Different but Equal
By Cindy Duncan
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Miss Howard sat at her desk, massaging her temples. Frustration had always given her a headache, but this one was worse than most. She checked her desk calendar again. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the all-important standardized testing days, were circled in red ink. She had been preparing her class all week, but there was still one concept they were struggling with.
Daniel, her best student, slammed his pencil onto his desk, causing Ava, who sat in front of him, to almost jump out of her seat and hit the floor. “I just don’t get it, Miss Howard.” He threw his hands up beside his head. “And why in the world would we ever need to know how to reduce a fraction anyway?”
Ava reluctantly agreed with Daniel. “Yeah, and it just doesn’t make sense. I mean, how can two things be the same when they’re so different?” She flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Math is dumb anyway.”
Miss Howard walked over to the white board to try again. “Okay, if you’ll look at number three, four eighths reduced to lowest terms is one half, and the fractions are equal to each other. We know this because we just divided it by four over four, which is one. Any number divided by one is the same number.” Just listening to her explanation gave her a clue as to why they didn’t understand.
She tried the circle visual again, showing that the shaded area of four eighths was the same as that of one half. She turned to look at her students, only to be met by at least half a classroom of blank stares. “See, that’s the thing,” said Daniel. “You say they’re the same, then you say the second one is reduced. I thought reduced means less than.”
Luke, the most logical little thinker in the room, raised his hand with the confidence that comes with solving a problem. “Miss Howard, this is your first year teaching. Maybe you’re just confused about fractions.” Several children raised their eyebrows and nodded in agreement, confirming they believed this to be the problem.
Miss Howard began to pace back and forth across the front of the classroom. “Please Lord, help me to help them understand.” She stopped at her desk and leaned against it. “Let’s take a break from math, and listen to a story.”
“Finally,” Ava said, with a huge sigh. “You know I love stories, Miss Howard.”
“I do know that, Ava.” The children all sat a little straighter in their chairs as Miss Howard began.
“There once was a king of a beautiful city, one with streets of pure gold. He owned everything, including great riches, and he wore a purple robe and a crown of jewels. One day the king decided to get off his throne and leave this great city for a while. He left his robe and his crown behind, and went to a small town. In this little town, nobody knew the king. No one bowed down to him, and he had no fancy place to live. He even had to sleep in a barn.”
Luke had his eyes focused on Miss Howard. “I bet he didn’t look like a king anymore.”
“No, Luke, he probably didn’t. But here’s my question. Was he still a king?” Miss Howard paused to give them time to think about it.
Daniel answered first. “Of course he’s still a king. Just because he looked different didn’t mean he wasn’t still a king. Oh, wait a minute.” Miss Howard watched the look of understanding light up his eyes. That look was the reason she became a teacher, and she never tired of seeing it.
“Just because a fraction doesn’t look the same as another one doesn’t mean they can’t be the same, right Miss Howard?”
“That’s exactly right, Daniel. One is just in lower terms than the other. The king reduced himself to lower terms too, but that’s a lesson for another day.
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