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Oh, We Do Like to Be Beside the Sea Side

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


It seemed like a good idea at the time, but history places it on the same level as my decision to invest serious money into a mobile shoe repair scheme.

Warm summer weather provided the incentive to organise an excursion to the beach. Ostensibly, the educational objective was to observe the wonders the sea has to offer in the way of geometric shapes and formations, especially Fibonacci patterns.

The real reason for the proposed trip was to unwind and reward my class with a fun-filled day in the sun.

The agenda was straightforward. Travel by hire bus, listen to a spiel from the local marine biologist, explore, have lunch, splash, swim, and make the return journey.

I persuaded Sarah to accompany me because I believed that as a Geography teacher she could provide insight into rock formations and landscape. Besides, she was a decent and hard-working young teacher who deserved to sunbake in her bikini.

Sarah reluctantly agreed to be co-chaperone, no doubt because she remembered the last time she was so obliging in volunteering to accompany me on an outing. True, her encounter with angry magpies was unfortunate, but the good news is that the gash on her head after falling down the abandoned mine shaft is now barely noticeable.

The bus deposited us within walking distance of a 4-wheel drive facing the ocean, which, for some reason, was parked perilously near the edge of a tor.

“Hi, I’m Emma,” the marine biologist informed us as we reached the car.

“Hi, Emma. I’m George. This is Sarah, and these are our eager students,” I replied, waving my hands expansively.

After Emma instructed us to sit on the sand, copious printed sheets were distributed whose content she explained with the expected degree of scientific precision and enthusiasm. In other words, it bored my students silly!

Emma ended her talk, question time concluded (there were no questions) and I dutifully thanked her for an informative and interesting presentation. Polite clapping ensued and she prepared to leave.

And then the unthinkable happened. The scene was something you’d swear only happens in a Z-grade movie. The front of the vehicle began to tilt and stopped moving only after it was pointing downwards at a most undignified angle. An incoming sea breeze then added to the farce by initiating a gentle rocking.

After the initial shock subsided, we scratched our heads for a solution, but without success. ‘So much for your mathematical problem-solving skills’, I chided myself.

Fortunately, Stan, our intrepid bus driver, had witnessed the debacle. He cautiously reversed the bus as close as possible and used tow-rope to haul the car to safety.

Emma departed, but not before expressing her gratitude many times over to the bus driver with heartfelt promises that she will act as personal guide when he and his family visit the area.

After a not very exciting lunch prepared by the Home Economics class, we rested until the coolness of the sea drew us in our swimwear to the water’s edge.

It was not long before our students were laughing, swimming and trying to catch the occasional wave lapping the shoreline.

“Remember why we are here,” I called out to them. “Look for evidence of Fibonacci’s spiral in the sea shells. It gives us the Golden Ratio.”

Jimmy was the only one to turn his head and yell, ”Okay, sir” before resuming his horseplay.

Having performed my professional duty, as far as pedagogy was concerned, I turned my attention to Sarah. She was casually wading in the shallows, keenly examining seaweed gently lapping the smooth rocks that could be seen with each pass of a wave.

Suddenly, something under the water attracted her attention. Not conversant in marine biology, Sarah lifted the creature out of the water and waved it to attract my attention.

“Does this demonstrate the Golden Ratio?” she asked hopefully.

I glanced at the crustacean wriggling to escape from her hand. Before I could reply, Sarah released a high-pitched squeal and tried to shake off the crab that had decided to become a permanent accoutrement to her thumb. Everyone quickly moved to offer Sarah assistance, but before we reached her the creature mercifully released its grip. It plopped into the water, glanced fleetingly in our direction as an act of defiance and submerged victoriously.

After a decent period of consoling, the students returned to their activities and Sarah felt confident enough to re-enter the water. At this stage I decided to stay close to her to avoid any further incidents. Fossicking amongst the mollusc-covered rocks, we found some decent sized nautilus shells to display as ideal examples of Fibonacci numbers. As we headed for shore, I reflected that this was turning out to be not a bad day, after all.

A disquieting and familiar squeal suddenly woke me from my reverie. At the corner of my eye I just managed to see Sarah drop the shells and quickly plunge her right hand under the water.

“What’s wrong?” I asked with concern.

Before she answered, I knew. Hovering around her legs were several jellyfish.

“Careful, don’t step on them,” I quickly advised her. “Come this way.”

By now the students had gathered, and en masse we reached shore. Sarah slumped on the sand and I inspected the damage. She clutched her right leg and complained that it was stinging.

“Not to worry,” I comforted her. “All we need is something acidic to ease the pain.”

“Do you have anything like that?” Sarah asked me with hope.

“Er, no,” I stated. I turned to the students. “Does anyone have something we can use for the stinging?”

“No, we don’t have anything,” was the general chorus from shaking heads.

“Well, then,” I began, not knowing what options were available.

Again, almost by divine intervention, Stan arrived clutching a bottle and a bag.

“I thought as much,” he began without explanation. He gently poured half the contents of the bottle over Sarah’s affected leg area.

“Vinegar,” Stan revealed. “Best thing for treating these critters.”

He unzipped the bag and took out tweezers. For several minutes Stan carefully prised the stings and finished the task by pouring the remainder of the vinegar.

“Feeling better?” Stan asked Sarah.

“Much. Thanks,” a visibly calmer Sarah replied.

“And as for you,” Sarah began, glaring at me, “don’t ever ask me to go with you on any more excursions.”

I was quite upset, but Sarah winked at me mischievously, smiled and added, “Well, no excursions for at least two weeks.”

As we all made our way to the bus, Stan whispered, “Cheer up. I know what’s it like. Been through it myself.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“I was a teacher once. In fact, I was a principal.”

With that, Stan took his place in the driver’s seat.

“Everyone, seat-belts on, please,” he commanded in the best traditions of a disciplinarian school master.

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