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how much is a million

Why My Kids Can’t Count To A Million

by Jose Vilson on November 13, 2007

howmuchisamillion.jpgAs some of you know, I had an assignment in which we wanted to make 1 million stars and fill up the wall with that many stars. I set up the project by reading the book How Much Is a Million by David Schwartz and Steven Kellogg, and telling them that we’d be attempting to do as one of the facts stated: fill up seventy pages worth of stars, which I calculated to around 12,500 stars a student. I explicitly stated in the aforementioned post that I knew the kids wouldn’t get that far, but just to believe that they could really encourages them to do so. (Eventually, we’ll make it to 1 million, but they don’t know it yet.)

One month later, we have almost 60+ pages full of stars from the kids, and they’re really nice. But of course, as the latest trend has been, certain people want to squash even the sweetest of fruits just to say that they could. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say that we still have this pervasive theme of discouraging imagination and creativity in favor of rigid indoctrination. We shouldn’t have higher-ups coming in my room in front of the kids and basically crushing all the encouragement I’ve been giving the kids about their accomplishment, especially when it was my idea and I never got any assistance for said project.

And even when there’s the slightest hint of creativity from the higher-ups, it’s not done to achieve anything but as a facade to look ingenious. I look at what we did, and not only did it really pump up the kids, but it actually helped with a few of the math state standards, so I was essentially preparing them for the test without teaching to it. On the other side, we have people trying to emulate popular game shows on their computers but it has little to no relevance to preparing them for the test, and it’s taking away from our common planning, where we can be … planning in common … or whatever that was supposed to say. Y’all get the drift. I was also able to tie this in to Penny Harvest, and if all goes well, we’ll be able to observe what a 100 million pennies looks like in Rockerfeller Center.

Reaching for the StarsBut it’s just another footnote on how even within our own communities and people who share certain commonalities with their students can still be myopic enough to crush kids’ hopes with a lack of courtesy and encouragement. You can have all these slogans for student success, get great remarks from outside officials through your quality review, and get a great letter grade from NYC’s khan himself, but until we can effectively change the thinking our children have about their school environment and how they perceive their world, we’ll continue the endless cycle of mental and emotional abuse many inner-city children continue to endure and feed into.

According to the estimations of Schwartz and Kellogg, it would take approximately 23 days non-stop for someone to feasibly count to 1 million. Sounds like a little, but it apparently takes a lot longer to get our kids to believe that that’s possible. And even longer for everyone else to believe that those kids can believe that.


jose, who has an issue with the institution and not the individuals who crushed the fruit to begin with …


We Can Work It Out

by Jose Vilson on October 2, 2007

howmuchisamillion.jpgLife is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend. I have always thought that it’s a crime, so I will ask you once again.

In my classroom, I’m trying to build a sense of community within my classroom. My classroom setup, my classroom management, and the messages I deliver through my diatribes and lessons usually spells out team for the kids. Unfortunately, many children aren’t accustomed to thinking like that, and that’s fine … for now. For instance, last Friday, I put up my students of the month, and one of the kids wondered why another student got student of the week and not him.

I knew he was distraught because he probably thought he was going to get it, and justifiably so. Yet, he didn’t seem happy at all for the girl and fellow classmate. His class in general is full of “student of the week” candidates so I really could have picked anyone at random. It’s just that she got the highest score on the test, and her work has been excellent since day 1.

Then, something just came to me, as if I was talking to a former self: “Remember to stay humble. I recognize your efforts, and appreciate the work you do. Keep working at it and eventually you’ll get there too. Everyone gets the opportunity to make it on that list.” It was weird to have to tell that to a kid who reminds me a little of self when I was his age.

Last Friday, I did a read-aloud with the book How Much Is A Million, by David M. Schwartz (illustrations by Steven Kellogg, who I’m about 30% sure was on LSD when he drew this book because it’s hilarious). It’s a fantastic book when giving children a true understanding of what a million feels and looks like. Unfortunately, we don’t do enough to incorporate those type of stories into our curriculum, even when the state standards ask us to. (In the 6th Grade NYS Math Standards, one of the main objectives is to get students to know their places until the trillions.)

I read it aloud to them in a circle. Some of the students chose to sit in the middle so they can see all the pictures. They were thoroughly excited to have a read aloud in the sixth grade. In part of the book, Marvelosissimo the Magician takes the kids on a hot air balloon through space (I told you), and they start counting page after page of stars.

Of course, the ambitious teacher that I am, I decided to create the “Million Stars Project,” based on that very section. I calculated that if all my 80 students each made one sheet with 12,500 stars, we could feasibly make the 1 million stars, which would be the first time in my school’s history anyone’s taken on such an ambitious project. The responses to the project went from “OH MY G_D!!!” to “Can’t we just print it out or something?” I almost did back flips as it felt like everyone was with me when I told them about this very ambitious project. A couple whined, but it was an amazingly small group of kids that felt that way (3-4 to be exact).

The secret is that I’m pretty sure we won’t get to a million stars. Children’s interests are as ambitious as an adult’s, but more fleeting. Of course, they have an incentive i.e. a good grade in my class and the ability to make history. It’s really more about the sense of accomplishment and pride in what they do than anything else. And we get to do it across the board, as a floor, not just one class. We can work it out if we really try.

jose, who’s glad he doesn’t have to go through any red tape to do things like this