Conversations on the Rifle Range, I: Not Your Mother’s Algebra 1 and the Guy Who Really Knows

Out in Left Field, via a kind Barry Garelick email:

Barry Garelick, who wrote various letters under the name Huck Finn and which were published here is at work writing what will become “Conversations on the Rifle Range”. This will be a documentation of his experiences teaching math as a long-term substitute. OILF proudly presents the first episode:

Those familiar with my writing on math education know me from my previous incarnations as John Dewey and Huck Finn, whose adventures I recounted in a book called “Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn”. I am in a second career which for lack of a better title is known as “trying to obtain a permanent math teaching position in a desirable area of California.” I retired a few years ago and obtained a math teaching credential. Although I have applied for various math teaching jobs, I have only managed to get two interviews, so I’ve had to make do by being a substitute teacher. This situation may be due to age, or perhaps my views on math education are becoming known, or both.

In the course of the 2013-14 school year, however, I took on two long-term substitute assignments. The first one was for six weeks at a high school which started at the beginning of the school year. The second was for an entire semester at a middle school, starting in January and ending in June.

Both assignments took place amidst the media hype that focused on the 50th anniversary of events occurring in 1963 and 64 including but not limited to the Kennedy assassination, the Beatles’ arrival in the US and performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Not mentioned by the press but every bit as important is the fact that it was also the 50th anniversary of my taking Algebra 1. And while I am not an outright proponent of the philosophy that “If you want something done right, you have to live in the past”, when it comes to how to teach math there are worse philosophies to embrace.

As if to keep me from delving too far into my past, my teaching assignments occurred during a year of transition to the Common Core standards. In both assignments, I came to know the person from the District office, who I shall call Sally, whose role was to get the teachers—as part of the transition effort— to try various Common Core type activities with their students. I met her for the first time on the teacher workday held before the first day of school.

Sally started out the meeting by telling us that she had been meeting with the person in charge of putting together the California “Framework” for Common Core. “So he REALLY KNOWS what’s going on,” she said. This stated, she then talked about this in-the-know person’s view of Common Core’s Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMPs).
– See more at:

  • While I appreciate the tone of this article, I find that it lacks substance. I do not have the means to examine the author’s previous writings to find out how he would teach the subject.
    On the other hand I do not approve on the way that common core seems to have been implemented without a beta test.