It’s a Wednesday morning, and Zenaida Tan is warming her students up with a little exercise in “Monster Math.”
That’s Tan’s name for math problems with monstrously big numbers. While most third-graders are learning to multiply two digits by two digits, Tan makes her class practice with 10 digits by two — just to show them it’s not so different.
On this spring day, her students pick apart the problem on the board — 7,850,437,826 x 56 — with the enthusiasm of game show contestants, shouting out answers before Tan can ask a question. When she accidentally blocks their view, several stand up with their notebooks and walk across the room to get a better look.
The answer comes minutes later in a singsong unison: “Four hundred and thirty-nine billion, six hundred and twenty-four million….”
Congratulations, Tan tells them, for solving it con ganas. That’s Spanish for “with gusto,” a phrase she picked up from watching “Stand and Deliver,” a favorite film of hers about the late Jaime Escalante, the remarkably successful math teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.