I recently got back from Santa Fe. I was attending a conference there for a few days last week and afterward, I drove to El Paso to visit my brother’s family (he’s currently stationed in the middle east so I didn’t get to see him – unless you count face time) for a day before flying home.
Let me preface this story by saying that we all probably have a story similar this, but how we handle it can be a possible game changer.
Somewhere on my long drive, I stopped at a fast food restaurant to grab a quick bite. So, I went inside and got in line. The following outlines the beginning of our interaction as I stepped to the counter:
Cashier: May I take your order?
Me: Yes, please. I’d like a number 2.
Cashier: Large or medium.
Me: Medium, please.
Cashier: (after pushing more buttons than is conceivably necessary to enter my choice of “medium”): Your total will be $6.05.
I dug through my wallet (receipts from the trip and everything) and found that all I had was a $10 bill, so I handed it to her. She entered $10.00 correctly and the correct change of $3.95 showed up on the little screen. At just about that point, I remembered that I had a bunch of change in my pocket and said quite enthusiastically, “Oh, wait, I think I have a nickel.” Who wants to carry around $0.95 in change in their pocket.
The cashier didn’t miss a beat, and said, “So, your change will be $4.00 even.” I kind of smiled as I continued to look through my change, proud that she had a mental strategy to adjust to the situation and that she seemed quite confident and comfortable using it in this situation.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a nickel, but I still didn’t want change falling out of my pocket into the depths of the rental car, never to be seen by me again. So, I told her, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have a nickel, but I do have a dime.”
As I handed her the dime, I saw her face morph from a confident smirk to a confused, almost terrified look of despair . I had just taken her from a mathematical point of “Yeah, I can do this math stuff. I may not use the computer for the rest of my shift” to “Holy $#!+, what the #=|| just happened!”
I went into math teacher mode and waited patiently for her to begin breathing again. And then I waited for her begin thinking. She adjusted my change with my introduction of the idea of a nickel, why not a dime? After what seemed like 5 minutes (probably more to her), it was painfully obvious to all around that her anxiety in this situation was taking over her ability to tackle this problem. So, I tried to think of a “least helpful question” to ask. Now I put myself on the spot. If she only knew that we were both now feeling some of this pressure.
So, I finally asked her my question and she gave me the correct change within a few seconds. She smiled as she gave me my change and my new “unknown” student and I parted ways. I know I felt good about helping someone develop a strategy outside of the classroom. I hope she had a similar feeling about learning to make sense (no pun here) of making change.
Being a math teacher is a 24-7 job sometimes and we can find our students anywhere – even in a fast food restaurant in New Mexico!
What you would have asked the cashier in this situation. I’d love to hear what your “least helpful” question would have been. No pressure, take as long as you like. No one is waiting in line behind you!
Feed the hungry!
Oh, here’s my question: “If you could change the dime into some other coins, what would you change it for?”