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Rome superintendent speaks out on math lesson issues

Dave Gymburch
Staff writer
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Posted 10/12/19

Persons using social media to express concerns about a Rome school classroom math question without knowing the full context hopefully will not hinder teachers’ instructional efforts, school …

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Rome superintendent speaks out on math lesson issues

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Persons using social media to express concerns about a Rome school classroom math question without knowing the full context hopefully will not hinder teachers’ instructional efforts, school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake said Friday.

But Blake also expressed fears that it may do so.

When asked about possible impacts from online issues that surfaced regarding a fifth-grade Bellamy Elementary School math question that offended some people, Blake said “I hope that the negative backlash of social media from people who didn’t have context or all of the facts does not deter our teachers from providing appropriate and connected instruction for our kids.” However, “I fear that events like this will cause teachers and anyone in a public job to not take chances to enhance a kid’s experience for fear of the bullying that takes place online.”

Blake additionally commented “I hope this event has no effect on our teachers, but I am sure it will cause many to retract and become less open to attempting innovation for fear of failure or public scrutiny over doing what they are trained to do.”

The math question referred to a person named George mixing doses of substances such as windshield washer fluid, bleach and detergent to give to his “mean old grandma,” and asked students to calculate the total amounts for each ingredient. Among various people objecting on Facebook was a person who said she was a grandmother, according to online reports including lite987.com and bigfrog104.com.

However, Blake said the question was “directly connected to a text that the students are reading” in ELA (English Language Arts) class. The children’s book, by Roald Dahl and titled “George’s Marvelous Medicine,” includes a character named George who has a mean grandmother for whom he makes a “magic medicine” including such ingredients as deodorant, shampoo, horseradish sauce and engine oil. The “medicine” makes her grow extremely tall. Among Dahl’s other books is the children’s story “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Blake said “the staff were attempting to connect the ELA work with the math work,” adding it is “appropriate and encouraged for all teachers.”

But “the problem is, most people don’t have the background context of the book to understand the innocence of the question. On the surface, the question can be deemed alarming and insensitive. In context of the classroom and what the kids were learning in totality, the question connects their units of study well.”

Blake later added “I have said it before and I will continue to say it, if we want the concept of bullying to improve in any school system in this country, adults everywhere need to learn to use the media appropriately and not use it as a platform to vent...and make blanket statements as truths when most people have very limited first-hand information about the people/situations that they are tearing down.”

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