I got a call yesterday afternoon. It was Danny, asking when I might be swinging by the house. DJ was struggling with 10 algebra problems that were to be turned in for a grade. And Danny was struggling trying to help her.

Danny is doing a fantastic job of keeping the girls’ studies up. I help some. Without getting into specifics, the girls all have very high grades (at least one got all A’s last semester, and there were plenty of A’s among them), and, perhaps more importantly, all have a pretty darn good work ethic. That is a tribute both to their mother and and credit to their father, both of whom instilled in them good overall character.

The school work they get, I would say, is fair and challenging. The girls seem overwhelmed sometimes when first facing loads of homework or multiple tests, but typically they succeed through practically working their way through it.

But I think we’re finding that, in math at least, Danny’s peak as a capable tutor might be 8th grade.

I actually tutor some in math and have done a decent amount over the years, with varying results. So, to be fair to Danny, because of that I’ve stayed much more fluent in algebra–and I’m actually excited for when DJ takes geometry! (she’s going to HATE it)

Danny described one of the problems to me.

“Five to the negative one time three to the negative two. What are negative exponents?”

I told him I could take a look at it that night. We hung up, but when I jotted the problem down, I realized what he was talking about. Negative integers.

I called him back.

“The negative integers send it to the denominator. Or to the numerator if it’s in the denominator”

He said they’d try to use that. I wasn’t getting home until 7:30 and they were going to the talent show at 7:00, so we agreed to meet later so I could take a look at the work.

About 15 minutes later, I receive this email from him. Its subject is (he’s going to be mad at me for saying this) “d@#% math”. Here’s what it said (I’ve cleaned it up a bit):

So I have spent the last hour trying to figure out this math. The problems that she has, for the most part, do not have an example in the book that shows you an exact pattern to follow. And, there are answers to some of the questions in the back of the book – there are answers to some pages, some odd numbered problems. But, NOT ONE OF THE ANSWERS TO SUPPORT THE EXACT TYPES OF PROBLEMS SHE HAS TO TURN IN FOR A GRADE TOMORROW!!! And I have scoured the internet.

There are 10 problems. I am nearly certain that three are correct. The rest, not sure. In case you are sitting waiting for your thing to upload, these are the exponent questions (*denotes an exponent):

5-1*(3-2*) we think this answer is 1/45

(r-5*)-4* (do two negatives make a positive? do you shift them to the denominator?)

mn-4*

p0*q-2* we think this answer is q2/mn4

a2*b0*(a-3*) we think this answer is 1/a

(32*)-1*(4m2*)3*

(3t2*)3*(2t0*)-3*

And there are two additional word problems. I think the negatives are what are hanging us up.

Thanks.

I literally laughed out loud at the thought of him typing out all these problems, many of which, as you will note if you care to examine, are correct. But (until I wrote this blog post) I did not spend two seconds reading the problems. When I thought about Danny thinking I would actually try to translate algebra via email, I laughed again. I saved the email and caught up with DJ later.

She had many of the answers right and a pretty good understanding of exponents, positive and negative, multiplying and adding. I’d say she and Danny were at about a B- working together. I showed her a few errors in her answers and she understood and made the corrections. Man, hope it gets a good grade after I signed off on it AND blogged about it.

Here are some other funny algebra pics: