Cutting Class in Fifth Grade

I think I’ve gotten what I need from elementary school and am ready to move on. When I started fifth grade on Monday morning, I felt restless. I hadn’t slept enough, as usual, and I was feeling kind of spacey, with a lot on my mind (I’ll post about that topic soon). I was disappointed in my lack of focus, because I had the privilege of finally being in Mr. Neubacher’s fifth grade class. He taught sixth when I was in school, back when elementary schools were K-6. It was just my luck that my sixth grade year was the year that the junior high became a middle school. So I never got a chance to have Mr. Neubacher, who was beloved by the kids. I appreciate the brief time I spent in his class this week, and here are some highlights:

Doing a cool science experiment.

The Exploratorium, San Francisco’s hands-on science museum, is piloting a program at my elementary school (the first in the country to try it), and from what I’ve seen, the kids love it. This week’s unit is Magnets, so my “lab partner” and I made a compass by magnetizing a sewing needle, pushing it through a styrofoam peanut, and floating it in a bowl of water. Pop Quiz: In what direction did the needle point? (See end of post for the answer.)

Hearing Mr. Neubacher discuss the news with the kids.

First thing every morning, he sits in front of the class in his casual jeans shorts and tennis shoes and asks the kids what current events they’ve heard about. Some are local, like a skateboarder arrested for interfering with the Vintage Festival parade, and others are global. Every year, Mr. Neubacher shares his love of environmentalism with his class, doing the recycling for the school and writing letters to government officials about global warming. In 2005, the class won an all-expenses paid trip to the Disney Resort for their advocacy, community cleanup, and relief efforts. It’s amazing to hear the kids talk about the polar ice caps melting and the oceans rising; they’re much more aware of world issues than I was at that age.

Jumping ship on long division.

I haven’t had occasion to do long division by hand since….elementary school, probably, and I think most adults would say the same. As with math in general, I think it’s important to show the kids how it’s useful in real life. Try this word problem:

A pharmacist is sorting pills, placing 75 pills in each bottle. If there are 3,380 pills, how many bottles will be filled and how many pills will be left over? Estimate the answer, and then use long division to find the answer. Show your work.

I could make a tasteless joke about why there would be zero pills left to bottle if I actually had to struggle through this problem…but I’ll refrain. I will say that I finally understood why my parents couldn’t help me with some of my homework back in the day, because they either didn’t remember the stuff, or had learned a different method of doing it. I’d learned a different approach myself and just wasn’t getting the new one. Plus, I still felt loopy, so I decided to exercise my grown-up privileges and head home in the middle of the classwork period.

Today I spent a little time in the other fifth grade classroom, though I had so much going on in my head that I journaled the whole time. I’m feeling ready to empty my brain of elementary school memories and move forward. Tomorrow, I’ll come to campus just for music class — stopping by chorus and various band sections all in a mere half hour — and Friday I’ll come for a brief student council meeting. Then I’m done with elementary school. I’ll spend a week out of town, in which I hope to fill in some of the gaps in my elementary school reporting, and then it’s on to middle school. Stay tuned for more elementary school stories.


Answer to “What direction was the homemade compass pointing?”: North.

Flickr Creative Commons image courtesy of sparktography.



Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!

When was a time you cut class or stayed home to avoid doing something at school?

Comments (6)

  1. Margaret

    Are you kidding?? I never cut class in elementary school! I would have been too afraid of the consequences, even if I had wanted to. I don’t think anybody could, surveillance (of the human eye type) was so airtight there. High school, now, I know other people cut classes, but I didn’t. Unless taking off a whole day because I was sick counts. Spartacus!

  2. Margaret

    oh and by the way, I still do long division. Like for figuring out my salary requirements.

  3. Melia

    Haha, in elementary I think of “cutting” as pretending you’re sick to stay home, not loitering outside the 7-11 during school hours.

    I’m going to use long division to figure out how much paint I need to cover my bedroom, but I’ll use a calculator. I think it’s important to be able to do it by hand if you need to, but by your own methods rather than one that’s mandatory. By hand, I prefer doing it backwards, e.g., “How many 72s fit into 400?”

  4. Melia

    OK, I changed the wording to “I haven’t had occasion to do long division _by hand_ since….elementary school” for clarification.

  5. lynnie

    I love(d) long division. I remember the favorite time of the day was the adrenaline rush that accompanied the timed math tests.

  6. Melia

    Haha, Lynnie, nerd alert, nerd alert! OK, I admit to doing math problems for fun at home from this book we got as the prize for some math contest.


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