Tag Archives: problem solving

Dominoes for Teaching Fractions, Decimals, or Division

Choose a set of rules for dominoes, then pick one of the following variations on score-keeping:

For Addition of Fractions

  1. Each player keeps track of points individually. For competitive games, individuals keep track of their own scores. For cooperative games, each player keeps track of the total score of the game.
  2. As players place tiles, the numbers represent fractions rather than integers. The number on the end touching the existing tile is the numerator, and the number on the free end is the denominator.
  3. Each time a tile is placed, the player must add the resulting fraction to the point total.
  4. If playing a version where doubles are played sideways, use this as an opportunity to enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter which number is the numerator; the answer is still 1 point for that tile.

For Long Division and Addition of Decimals

  1. Each player keeps track of points individually. For competitive games, individuals keep track of their own scores. For cooperative games, each player keeps track of the total score of the game.
  2. As players place tiles, the numbers represent division problems rather than integers. The number on the end touching the existing tile is the dividend, and the number on the free end is the divisor.
  3. Players must divide the numbers appropriately to how the tile was played, and add the resulting decimal number to the score total. The facilitator may choose to specify a certain number of digits to be used (i.e. – “round to the nearest hundredth”) depending on the skill level and desired outcomes of the game.
  4. If playing a version where doubles are played sideways, use this as an opportunity to enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter which number is the dividend; the answer is still 1 point for that tile.

For Division with Remainders, Rounding, and Addition of Integers

  1. Each player keeps track of points individually. For competitive games, individuals keep track of their own scores. For cooperative games, each player keeps track of the total score of the game.
  2. As players place tiles, the numbers represent division problems rather than integers. The number on the end touching the existing tile is the dividend, and the number on the free end is the divisor.
  3. Players must divide the numbers appropriately to how the tile was played until a remainder is found. Then, players properly round the answer to the nearest integer and add it to the score.
  4. If playing a version where doubles are played sideways, use this as an opportunity to enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter which number is the dividend; the answer is still 1 point for that tile.


Dealing with Creepers 101

Edit: Somehow I managed to leave off one of the most effective methods in the original post. To correct this on 12/31/15, I added #11: “Playing Dumb.”

People find themselves on the receiving end of behavior that sits somewhere in the creepy/annoying/scary/violent cloud on a regular basis, but we don’t seem to talk very much about ways to handle it that don’t involve violence, defensive weapons, or relying on others. Below are ten simple strategies that I’ve seen used effectively by myself or others to cut things short before such things are necessary, along with some discussion of when they work best. Some of these will work better for some people than others. It is important to note that some of them may fail even in the best-possible context, which would require a change in strategy. My hope is that readers will take what they want from this list, and dismiss what they don’t.

1. The Invisibility Wall

This strategy involves completely ignoring the antagonizer as if the person does not exist. It seems to work best when in confined spaces that one cannot leave (such as on a bus) or when the interaction is purely digital (blocking features are excellent). Some people who come off as creepy and/or annoying are really just starved for attention. Cutting off what they want can cause them lose interest and move on to other things. This may not be an effective choice in some cases, especially in open public areas where the person can follow you around. When using this method, It is important to keep the corner of your eye on the person in question to ensure that you don’t need to do something else to ensure your safety. Do not use this method if you suspect physical attack may be eminent. That will just make it harder to defend yourself.

2. The Smile and Nod

Many people don’t realize they are being creepy. Sometimes folks are actually staring off into space. Sometimes they don’t realize you could tell they were staring at you. Greeting the person with a quick smile and nod of interpersonal acknowledgement can, in these cases, put an abrupt stop to the staring. I use this method a lot when walking alone. I do not use it in closed spaces (such as on a bus) as it seems to be taken as an invitation for conversation in that context.

I have seen someone try to use this on a bus. For 25 minutes, the gracious smile and polite nod prompted more and more flirting from someone who seemed to misunderstand the terror in the other passenger’s eyes, and either didn’t notice or didn’t care that personal questions were continuously returned with empty answers. Whenever the flirting person looked away, the terror filled the smiler’s face until a grimace reversed the curve of the lips and the three nearest people shook their heads and made sad eyes in solidarity but did and said nothing. From this, we can learn a few things. Sometimes strategies simply fall flat and just don’t work. When a strategy isn’t working, pick a new one. Finally, while you are developing your personal toolkit of strategies, remember not to rely on strangers to stand up for you.

3. Serious Questioning Face

For the leering, not just staring sort of person, sometimes the smile and nod fails to put an end to the creeping. In those cases, I look directly at the person and raise my eyebrows with flattened lips. “Serious Questioning Face” has put an end to every leer I’ve used it with except two. With one, I mouthed, “what do you want?” from across the room. (Similar to “Direct Verbal Response” below.) That put an end to it. With the other, I got raised eyebrows in return to my “serious questioning face” and the person continued to follow me from room to room at the event, somehow managing to sneak up right behind me twice despite my best efforts. I altered strategies. I went and (with permission after an explanation of the situation) sat on the lap of my muscle-covered friend who also happened to have a black belt in karate. (This is a variation of “A Strong-Looking Friend” below.) The leerer continued to creep on me, so my friends and I left, made sure the creeper was not following us, and had an awesome night somewhere else. (This is “Disengage and Depart” below.) Notice that I continued to switch strategies until I found one that worked.

Side note: Notice how my friends totally had my back? Get friends like that if you don’t have them already. Be that kind of friend.

4. Direct Verbal Response

For the people who touch too much, for those who find the more subtle strategies as invitations rather than “go away” statements, and for people who are really just confusing, direct verbal response is my go-to strategy. Here are some of the things I have used effectively, chosen based on context:

  • “Do you want something?”
  • “I can’t understand what you’re trying to say, because you aren’t using any words.”
  • “I’d like some space to be alone with my thoughts right now.”
  • “Leave me alone,” or “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE.”
  • “Stop touching me,” or “STOP FUCKING TOUCHING ME.”
  • “Do not touch me again,” or, “KEEP YOUR FUCKING HANDS TO YOUR GOD-DAMN SELF.”
  • “That’s not okay. Stop it.”
  • And my personal favorite for people who are being mean and think it’s somehow flirting, “How often does that work for you?”

The loud versions full of profanity are meant for situations where the person seems to be capable of pending violence. The loudness does two things; it draws the attention of passersby who might otherwise not stop to help, and it intimidates your potential opponent. The stares of onlookers and the profanity add to this intimidation, building up a situation where you are less likely to be attacked and more likely to have witnesses and potential help if you are. Draw yourself up with confidence even if you don’t feel it. You might be able to intimidate the idea of assaulting you right out of someone’s head (see “Intimidation” below).

Be prepared to have an actual conversation if you use the calmer lines, especially the questions. Some people find the idea of initiating a conversation with someone creeping them out to be intimidating. Personally, I find it empowering. It usually seems to catch the other person off guard, which allows me to regain control of the situation. The last one on the list above is one of my favorites because it typically prompts a short conversation which can either turn into a longer, more pleasant conversation or end the interaction altogether. It also seems to make creeps stop and think about what they’re doing. I like to think they learn from it.

5. Disengage and Depart

Sometimes the safest strategy is to simply leave the situation. Leave the party, leave the couch, leave the event, what have you. Doing so safely is important. Make up excuses if you feel the need to have one. Be careful that no one is following you. If you are leaving a party alone due to someone who seems to be stalking you there, for example, have someone walk you to your vehicle if possible. Many bars have bouncers who will walk you a short way.

6. A Strong-Looking Friend

Sometimes just hanging close to someone with muscles is enough to keep creepers away. Inviting such friends out with you when you go out to fun places where you might encounter creepers can be an effective prevention tool. It can be wise, however, to talk with these friends about this and be sure they are comfortable with it. No need to make your friends feel blindsided by the sudden presence of creepers and/or used. Besides, if you talk about it ahead of time, you can make a game plan together to be on the samge page later.

7. The Fake Cell Phone Call

Some strangers just want way too much time and attention. A phone call can be an effective shield. You can pretend to be on the phone, or call a real friend and chat about your day so someone knows where you are.

8. Calling the Cops

Threatening to call the cops can intimidate people into leaving you alone (see “Intimidation” below). Actually calling them can help when a person is clearly a danger to themselves or others, or is making verbal or nonverbal threats. When cops arrive on scene, you will have a choice. You can file a police report, or not. If you do, you will also have the option to press charges, but you can file the police report without pressing charges if that is your preference. Make whatever choice you prefer for whatever reasons you believe in.

Edit: This information about your rights with police officers is based on USA laws.
Edit the second: This information as written before I understood the dangers many people who aren’t white face when calling the police. Decide ahead of time where your line is for when you will call the police, if ever.

9. Lying

This is a strategy I do not use and therefore cannot personally vouch for it, but many of my friends find the following to be quite effective. Note that the first and third bullets are genuinely useless when it comes to putting a stop to come-ons in polyamorous and/or swinger communities unless you specify closed/monogamous when you fabricate your relationship partner.

  • Answer, “Do you have a [boy][girl]friend?” or, “Are you married?” with, “Yes,” regardless of the truth. This can prompt some people to immediately leave you alone.
  • Answer, “Come here often?” with, “No,” even if the true answer is yes if you get bad vibes. It is often wise to prevent letting strangers know what your habits are, especially if you find them to be creepy or intimidating.
  • Claiming to have a romantic partner or spouse to go meet can help prevent someone from following you when you “Disengage and Depart.”

10. Intimidation

It’s easy to feel intimidated by people who are being creepy. It is surprisingly easy to turn that around. Confidence is highly intimidating, as is yelling (see “Direct Verbal Response” above). Studies have shown that most folks who want to prey on other people want an easy target. Standing strong in the face of someone who sets off alarm bells in your head can be all it takes to make them back down.

I remember a Hallowe’en party where my best friend at the time was dressed as a bumble bee and I was dressed as an early hominid. We were talking to two people, one of whom was very drunk and continued to violate my friend’s personal space as we talked. Despite my friend repeatedly saying “no” and physically dodging hands trying to reach inside that bee costume, this fellow kept at it. I am tall, yet this person was a head taller than me and probably weighed another 100 pounds in muscle. I put myself between them with a strong stance and yelled at him to “BACK THE FUCK OFF!” The big, drunk, 6’+ creeper got scared, and stumbled backwards with wide eyes. My friend and I were then able to “Disengage and Depart” (above). There was a chance that could have turned into a fight I very probably would not have won. To me, it was worth that risk to stop my friend from being violated any more than had already transpired. The “Intimidation” technique is often a bluff, but so far no one has ever called my bluff. I don’t think most people really want to deal with hand-to-hand combat when all they really want is to fondle someone’s body.

11. Playing Dumb (added on 12/31/15)

When people make indirect yet inappropriate comments, such as a stranger making a dirty joke about you without being completely blunt, playing dumb can be an effective defense tool if “Direct Verbal Response” (above) is not something you’re in to. This can be done by silently portraying confusion in your body language, or verbally. For playing dumb verbally, try something like one of the following:

  • “Huh?”
  • “I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand.”
  • “I don’t get it.”

Some people who come off as creepy are genuinely attempting to hit on people. Playing dumb can make them feel like their attempt fell flat, and they will often depart in embarrassment. Others are specifically looking for people who actually find their jokes to be funny. Regardless of the reason for the initial comment, playing dumb can often effectively utilize the other person’s social fears to disarm any intentions towards you. Sometimes, it also means that person will take you less seriously, which can give you an advantage if you need to continue manipulating the person into leaving you alone.

A Note on Gender

Gender does not dictate who is an agitator/creeper/assailant and who is a target/opponent, nor does it dictate who is capable of standing up for others. Look out for your friends, all of them, and find friends who will do the same for you if and when these strategies fail.

The Parable of the Anachronistic Alchemist

A prodigy graduate physics student at UC Berkeley in California’s bay area worked secretly to create a time machine. The device was designed to transport up to two people and their clothing, two small cases of gear, and enough fuel for a return journey through time and space. Calculations regarding Earth’s location in space over time were integrated into the operating systems, allowing the driver the ease of entering a date, time, and Earth surface coordinates into the console.

Our student had a fondness for alchemists from history. Their obsession with such goals as turning lead into gold did not blind their judgement when it came to the process of discovery. In fact, these individuals began to carefully record the results of their experiments, and ultimately created the fundamentals of what is known today as the scientific method.

When the time machine was complete, our student dressed in destination-appropriate clothing, bid adieu to the cat in ancient Greek, and arrived moments later outside Alexandria in the middle of a summer night in the year 176. After an incredible adventure that is not relevant to this story, our student returned to the vehicle with a new friend who was an alchemical practitioner, and a deeper understanding of the ancient Greek language.

Our student brought the alchemist to Berkeley’s campus, sneaked him in to the chemistry library, and showed him the wonder of one of her favorite collections of knowledge.

“Nearly two thousand years of exploration and discovery have lead us to this and more,” our student said in ancient Greek.

The alchemist looked around with eyes full of wonder. Book after book the alchemist pointed out, and our student translated the title. Sometimes they read in the books. As time went on, the alchemist grew wary.

“This cannot be,” he said. “Elements that are not alive? Metals as discrete, separate elements that do not mature into precious metals? Everything here is based on these concepts, and these concepts must be false. Therefore, this library is full of nothing but lies.”

Our student was perplexed and tried to discuss the matter further, but the alchemist wished to return home. Our student complied, leaving him back in ancient Alexandria where she had found him. Back at home, our student contemplated the situation. It did not make sense for someone who was dedicated to truth and reason to dismiss something just because it conflicted with previously held beliefs.

Graduation finally came, and our student took the podium. After thinking over time about her encounter with the alchemist, it flavored her speech to her fellow graduating scientists.

“…truly embracing discovery can be difficult because it means letting go of preconceived notions, and preconceived notions are comfortable. They help us understand the world, so losing them is scary. As we go forth into the real world let us remember, in former president Roosevelt’s words, that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Go forth. Let yourself be afraid. Discover truth.”

Snippets from the Week

Any names presented have been changed.

A Morning in Line

This particular food distribution location is my favorite one. I intend to write a post in the future about the full extent of why, but one of the reasons is that folks there are pleasantly social. This distribution location doesn’t use lines in the traditional sense. Instead, they use a “take a number” system. The result is that folks actually talk to one another. With the freedom to move about a pretty church courtyard from group to group, it almost feels like a family reunion full of folks you’ve only ever met in passing.

Ages of patrons waiting for food ranged from 20s to way too old for estimation. Most folks looked well over 40. Many of them had long-wrinkled skin and used wheel chairs or other mobility assistance devices. Several of them asked my name, and I began making new friends.

As usual, I managed to be using the restroom during the morning prayer. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist per se, but I also do not have a desire to pray to a God I don’t believe in. Silently refraining from joining the group prayer prior to food distribution earned me nasty looks from other patrons on my first few visits. Conversely, the folks running “God’s Pantry” took no apparent offense to my discrete abstinence from prayer.

I emerged from the restroom with freshly washed hands clutching my numbered ticket. I asked one of my new acquaintances if I had missed anything important during announcements. He told me that there was a registered nurse there that day, and directed me to her.

I asked the nurse about some concerning symptoms I had. She urged me to see a doctor at my earliest convenience. I thanked her, and went back to waiting my turn.

An Afternoon in Class

My calculus teacher wrote the number of students who received each letter grade on our first test on the white board:

  • 6 – A
  • 6 – B
  • 12 – C
  • 5 – D
  • 4 – F

“What a lovely bell curve,” I thought to myself as I awaited my exam. The teacher walked about, placing each one face down on the desks. Finally it was my turn.

I stared at the back of my test, then flipped it over as if I was ripping off a bandage. My heart danced a little with joy at what I saw.

“What did you get?” asked my study buddy from the desk behind me.

I showed him the big “96% Nice Job!” across the top of my page. He grinned. His score was a 97%. High-fives were had.

An Evening in the Store

I am a superstar at the retail store where work. I’ve got the brain of a problem-solving engineer and the heart of a compassionate teacher. The combination makes me perfect for any employer who wants proactive employees.

I can do anything on the sales floor except work in the coffee shop, including all the things with special training, which means I often don’t get my assigned tasks completely done. My bosses are okay with that, though; they know I am putting out fires.

On this particular evening, the line at the returns desk became wondrously long, so I hopped back there to help out. My last customers consisted of a couple who had come to return their coffee maker because the latch button which allows the coffee to be poured from the carafe had broken off. Their receipt had not expired, but we were out of stock on that model.

It took some convincing as they had their heart set on that exact model, but I walked the couple back to the coffee display to see if we could find something similar that they liked. We couldn’t, but I got an idea, and I pulled out my walkie.

“Nancy, do you copy, Nancy?”

“Go for Nancy,” my manager responded.

“I have some folks with me who would like to return a coffee maker, but we are out of stock on the model they want. It’s just a small piece on the carafe that’s broken, though. Is it okay if we just switch it out for the display model’s carafe?”

“Is theirs still in good enough condition that our display will look nice?”

“I think so. It shouldn’t be too hard to glue this piece back on for display.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. Go ahead and do it.”

I peeled the sticker off the display carafe, and handed it to the customers in return for their old one. They left after expressing their happiness. In the break room, I used a cleanser which contained hydrogen peroxide to dissolve the coffee scent from the inside of the pot. It worked remarkably well, although there was still just enough of a hint of it that I hoped it might help drive more sales. When the outside was clean, I put the sticker from the original display model on it. It shined beautifully.

A Night in the Emergency Room

“I’d like you to stay on a clear liquid diet for the next 24 hours or so,” the ER doctor said to me.

I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

“I can’t really do that, but I’ll try,” I said.

“Clear liquids are things you can see through,” the doctor explained. He must have thought I had not read the papers the nurse had handed me. “So, things like Jell-O, and…” I interrupted during his pause.

“No, you don’t understand. I live off of food bank food. I don’t get a choice. I will do my best, and I’ll try to be gentler with the food I eat, but there’s no way for me to get my hands on clear liquids other than water. They don’t give us Jell-O at the food bank.”

“Oh…okay…” the doctor said, then went about discharging me. Long story short, suffice it to say that the CT scans show I did not have a concussion or internal bleeding, and the blood work was negative for everything, which is a fantastic combination. I know that “Obamacare” has hurt a lot of people in the middle class and probably could have been implemented better, but if it wasn’t for our current healthcare system, I would never have been able to afford a brain scan when nausea and other problematic symptoms followed a head injury.