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Do You Want Fries With Your Order?

I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to mathematics text books.



“Big Mac,” my class heard me mutter one morning without ceremony. The expected Pavlovian response came from Jimmy.

“Are we going to Maccas, sir?”

“No,” I disappointed him, “but they’re offering MathsOnline to all schools. It should be a useful resource.”

The recital began almost immediately. “Bor-or-ring. Bor-or-ring” they intoned.

Simon’s voice filtered through the chanting. “Why can’t they just give us nuggets? That would be a useful resource.”

“The program will monitor your progress,” I persevered as I paced through the aisles distributing cards. “These are your six-letter passwords. Please don’t lose them.”

I had painstakingly laminated the cards, hoping that their shelf life will at least exceed the duration of the lesson. Almost as soon as the last password was allocated, Jimmy jumped to his feet.

“Hey!” he protested loudly and held out his card for all to see. “Why did you make my password STENCH?”

Before I could reply another distressed voice interjected.

And me!” double chinned Eleanor complained. “My password is BLIMPY.”

The procession of litigants continued.

“Mine is RABBIT,” Jonathon hissed through pursed lips that could not hide his two prominent incisors.

“And I’m supposed to be FUNGUS?” Jeng scowled.

Dissatisfaction took the form of cards flying across the room and disappearing into the bin; an action redolent of the manner in which gold seekers presided over their licence burning rite at the Eureka Stockade.

I eventually restored order by convincing one and all that passwords were computer generated and not in any way based on the teacher’s proclivity for vindictiveness.

I held out the olive branch by promising to create a new set of passwords.

A week later I sought to gauge the level of interest in the program.

“Has anyone tried MathsOnline, yet?” I enquired. There was silence.

“I don’t have a computer,” Allison conceded as her justification for non participation.

“You could go to your friend’s house and use theirs,” I suggested.

“Sir, are you for real?” she grimaced. “Go to my friend’s place just to do maths work?”

Her disdain was clear. I was advising her to carry out a most heinous crime.

I glanced at Jimmy, who seemed pensive. “How about you, Jimmy?” I asked.

Jimmy briefly gazed at me before turning his attention to the window.

“No, I haven’t had time,” he uttered dismissively.

“Well,” I said to the class, “please try it as soon as possible.”

At lunchtime I was on yard duty, leisurely meandering and watching students enjoy their break as only hardened criminals released from protracted incarceration can appreciate. Jimmy had sidled next to me and began the conversation.

“Hi, sir.”

“Hi, Jimmy,” I replied. “Enjoying you lunch?”

“Yeah. Sir, can I ask you something?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“It’s me mum,” he stated, expecting this revelation would suffice to unravel the meaning of human existence.

“What’s the problem with your mother?” I solicited.

“Well, sir, she’s worried about me. She thinks I’m spending too much time alone in my room.”

Dangerous waters lay ahead. “If you have a personal problem, perhaps you should speak with the school’s welfare co-ordinator,” I suggested.

“No, sir,” he persisted, “because they wouldn’t understand.”

Bewilderment prefaced my enquiry. “What do you mean?”

He elaborated. “Well, I stay up late at night, spending hours on the internet.”

“Oh, no!” I thought, dreading what other confessions were imminent.

“And it’s your fault, sir,” he pronounced, implicating me in an intrigue I knew nothing about.

Totally confused, I could only manage, “How?”

“MathsOnline, sir,” Jimmy finally blurted out. “I can’t help myself! The more I use it, the more I want to keep using it.”

Jimmy did not notice my sigh of relief.

“What exactly have you been doing?” I asked.

“Everything, sir,” he began. “The tutorials, practice questions, drill, revision, consolidation activities, tests and more.”

Jimmy’s voice was croaky. “What’s wrong with me, sir?”

“Nothing, Jimmy,” I informed him. “Nothing at all.”

He was visibly relieved.

“Perhaps, though, from now on you should use MathsOnline at more reasonable times and also let your mum know what you’re doing.”

“Thanks, sir,” he said as he happily sauntered off to join his friends.

Jimmy’s predicament drew me into a brown study of an allegory.

Odysseus resisted the siren but Jimmy’s temptress, MathsOnline, proved too strong.

In any event, God helps those who help themselves. For his next test, Jimmy scored an unprecedented 100%.

Well done, Jimmy! Well done, MathsOnline!

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