Photo Credit: http://www.littleabout.com/Science/chicken-or-egg/98133/

One of the presenters at the Guild of IB Schools (GIBS) conference yesterday posed the following problem in his keynote speech:

“A hen and a half lays an egg and a half in a day and a half. How many eggs does one hen lay in one day?”

We knew the answer wasn’t going to be “one egg” because that would be too obvious. He gave us this problem right after giving us the problem “A train travels 500 miles in 10 hours. How many miles does the train travel in one hour?” and explaining that the next one would be richer. He asked for answers from the crowd. Some yelled out “0.75” and some yelled out “2/3.” He said that we should set it up like a ratio problem and that he would let us know the answer later on in the presentation.

Of course, I got distracted trying to solve it but tried to listen to the speech at the same time. My coworker leaned over and said, “I think I got it.” I replied “nooo! don’t show me, I want to figure it out myself.” About two minutes later, the presenter showed the answer on his PowerPoint. My answer? Wrong. I felt like a fraud math teacher for falling prey to the same work-ratio problems that I taught shortcuts for during my stint as a Kaplan SAT teacher. I felt like I was supposed to have solved that problem quickly in order to be a legitimate math teacher. As a teacher, I wouldn’t tell my students that they weren’t worthy if they didn’t solve the hen problem immediately…so why I was I telling myself this?

Later in the day, my boyfriend’s dad asked him to find out whether 61 was a prime number without looking it up. I went by intuition and guess-and-check, while he decided to check all the integers under the square root of 61 (< 8). Looking at his logical method compared to my “all over the place” one, along with my getting the hen problem wrong, made me wonder how I ever got into engineering in the first place; most likely because I got good grades in science and math. Note: I didn’t say “because math and science came easily to me.”

Though I enjoy solving problems, I’m not a tinkerer. For example, I brought a trebuchet in for my quadratics unit a few years ago. At one point in the demonstration, it malfunctioned and I couldn’t figure out how to put it back together. One of my students fixed it and had the best time launching things from it.  This student loved projects like building the highest paper tower or building a structure to hold the most textbooks, but low math and science grades probably kept him from even thinking about going to college for engineering. I’ve told him and another similar student that they would make great engineers. I hope that they’ll get the opportunity to try.

In spite of my hen problem insecurities and self-reflections in this post, I’m not regretful of any of my past educational or job choices. My strengths might not be in tinkering or logic, but my creativity, organization, and diligence/stubbornness have worked for me too! My school and career experiences all taught me a lot and helped me get into teaching. Sometimes it’s interesting to look at the patterns that have happened in one’s life and see how they make sense now. In college, I loved tutoring and doing outreach for girls in math and science…to the point that I helped co-found Girls Excited about Math and Science (GEMS) at UVA. I continued this pattern during my first job, taking part in Society of Women Engineers outreach activities, tutoring, and teaching ESL on the side. Back in those days, I assumed that teachers, professors, and bosses never made mistakes…that they would always have the right answers to the hen problems. Now I’m learning that it’s more about the journey than the answer 🙂

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