Regular readers of this blog may already be familiar with Danny, a ten year old boy I tutor in maths. You may recall how, by the judicious use of a few mini pizzas, Danny was finally able to work with decimals without hyperventilating at the very mention of them.
This week it was time to do some revision and to move him further in his studies.
By now, I reasoned (correctly, as it turned out) Danny should be able to work with printed pictures of pizza. He had reached a stage where the pictures alone had him salivating as effectively as Mr Pavlov’s little bell did for his canine subjects.
We had images of stacks of ten pizza delivery boxes to represent tens, whole pizza images to represent units and tenths and hundredths cut from a spare one of these. As long as there was something to remind him of the pizza experience, Danny was able to pick up or identify 31.34 pizzas. Even 20.25, 1.72 and 3.06 were well within his grasp.
From here we moved to an image of three boys eating pizza in front of the TV. I had written down how much pizza each had consumed and asked Danny to rank them in order of who had eaten the most. He poured over the numbers with the most intense concentration.
“Tim dot the least,” he announced, “‘Tos he only dot 1.23 pizzas. Then it’s Ed, ‘tos he had 3.6 and – oh I wish I was Sam! He’s dot 23.6 pizzas!”
We tried several similar questions. He didn’t make a single mistake. For Danny, motivation is everything. Numbers don’t motivate him. In fact they often terrify him. Pizzas, however, are benign and desirable. It’s important, in Danny’s mind, to know who has the most. He comes from a large family. To him, this is a survival skill.
Half way down the sheet, he noticed that the questions changed. No comforting tales of pizza-snacking friends – just a request to order a set of 5 decimal numbers from smallest to largest. The kind of question he’ll be asked to do battle with in the SATs tests in a few short weeks.
He glanced at me in panic.
“What’s these?” he asked.
“They’re still decimals, Danny,” I reassured him. “Just think of them like pizzas. Every time you see decimals, just think pizza, OK?”
“Right,” he said, relaxing instantly.
To my amazement and delight, he continued to order the numbers correctly. I showered him with praise as he sorted out this group: 14.8 18.4 41.8 4.18 81.4.
“You know we’re doing these sums at sdool at the moment,” he said thoughtfully, as he munched on the chocolate biscuit I’d given him as a reward. “And I’m no dood at it.”
“Do you think you might do better tomorrow if you think of them as pizzas?” I wondered.
“Yes, I’m sure I tould do it then,” he smiled.
When he left, I sat down to prepare next week’s lesson. It would be yet another attempt to encourage him to learn his multiplication bonds. ‘If only,’ I mused, ‘I could find a way of motivating him to do that.’