The worst part about being the math coach (besides the internal politics about whether or not I should have to proctor exams when I’m better served in the hallways) is feeling primarily responsible for how well students do on this confounded math test. The best part is when students approach you with a question that you didn’t think you taught and found out that you did in some roundabout way.

“Mr. Vilson, you know that one with the U-shapes?”

“Yeah, the parabolas. I think it said, which graph represents the equation y = -2x² – 8?” [Not the real equation]

“YEAH YEAH YEAH!”

“Well, which one did you guys pick?”

“I know it was either B or C. [both of them were negative parabolas, or u’s facing downward for the innumerate]”

“Yeah! I picked C, but I’m not sure.”

“Well, let me ask you, if there’s a negative in the first coefficient, which way is the parabola going to face?”

“Down!”

“Good. And then think: if it’s -8 at the end, is it going to be at the y-intercept, is it going to be up eight spaces or down eight spaces?”

“DOWN!”

“Then I think it’s C.”

Hi-fives and groans abound. I didn’t get to do parabolas much because my class struggled so much with solving equations, but I did it for two days, mainly out of boredom with the pace of the curriculum. Every teacher in my school thought the test was harder than last year’s, but fair compared to last year’s exam, a calamitous crank of an exam.

Let’s hope Book 2 fares better.

**Jose, whose feet hurt. **

### About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book *This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education*, on sale now.

## Comments 4

Damn parabolas (or pair-a-bolas, as I say)…I still don’t understand them nor have I ever used them in real life….but good job nonetheless!

What do you say about asymptotes? How does a fireman keep his pants up? Ga-looses or suspenders?

Author

hahaha

The first time I taught AP calculus, I knew there was going to be a separation of variables problem on the exam and taught the topic to the best of my ability. But, when the exam was over and I was allowed to see the questions, I froze when that one came up. At that point, one of my students (not a particularly good one either) ran to the board and proceeded to do it. She said, “Look, it is just the way you showed us.”

We teach them to a point and then they take over. You should feel very proud of your accomplishments with them no matter what the tests show.