Thursday, 14 July 2011

My lesson in risk evaluation from a nine-year old boy.

I teach primary school. This year, I have been lucky enough to have a maths set containing a few gifted and interested eight and nine year old mathematicians.

Every week, we do a timed times table activity. This involves filling in 121 answers to different times tables questions as quickly as possible. The idea is to build speed and accuracy. The children are hungry to better their scores, starving to beat each other and absolutely ravenous when it comes to the idea of beating me.

For the last few years, my score has remained static at around 2 minutes and 20 seconds. I don't think I can get much faster because, being a bit heavy handed, I can't write any faster.

A while ago, a boy asked if I would accept an open offer to give him a treat if he could beat me. I weighed up the odds and accepted, also saying that I would buy the whole class a treat if any one in the class could beat me. They all tried but he's the only one that has come close - even then,  I've always had a good 10 seconds on him.

Today was our last maths lesson of this academic year. I reminded him that our deal would end today. We then began the test. The room was tense and I have to admit, I could feel the load of expectation on my shoulders.

I beat him by less than one second - me at 2 minutes 17 seconds, him at 2 minutes 18 seconds. I sat back and let the relief wash over me.

I marked his paper and he scored the perfect score.

Then he marked my paper and, much to my embarrassment, I had some how managed to reverse two sets of answers - meaning that I got four answers wrong. I can't remember the last time that I got any answers wrong but today I did. Talk about buckling under the strain! Either way, I incurred a 20 second time penalty, meaning he had won fair and square.

"What are you going to get US?" he grinned, gesturing to his 26 class mates.

Suddenly my bold bet to furnish a treat on the whole class didn't seem quite as clever. Perhaps I need to brush up on my risk evaluation. Maybe he just stitched me like a kipper.

Either way, I redeemed myself by doing a deal with the kitchen staff and buying £6 worth of biscuits for £3.

Incidentally, it is probably one of the best £3 I ever spent because when I handed the loot over to him and watched him trot off to share it with his friends, he seemed to grow 3 inches.

He worked hard, he earned it, he got to share the rewards of his effort.

Isn't that what it's all about?