This summer, Harker math students took on a writing project. Teacher Margaret Harris’ pre-algebra class wrote letters to the publisher of their textbook regarding some errors and received a response from the publisher thanking them.
In their letters, the students carefully explained which problems contained errors by describing the mathematical principles involved. According to Harris, “The students were careful to be polite and considerate as they, too, understand mistakes.”
Harris became aware of the errors when students questioned the solutions. “Believing in my students, I checked out the questions myself and the students were correct. I encouraged them to write their corrections to the publisher,” she added.
Katherine Tang, Gr. 6, even went so far in her letter as to explain how she thought the publisher achieved the incorrect answer. “On the answer key you got the wrong answer because I think you forgot to subtract 1s2 from 8s2.” She said she felt like “I was a mathematician. I felt respected and learned a lot.”
Tom Hamilton, supervising editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, replied in an e-mail to Kelly Espinosa, director of summer programs. “I wanted to express our appreciation to Ms. Harris and the students for bringing these errors to our attention. Both errors will be corrected in the next printing of the book. We appreciate the efforts of all the teachers and students who help us achieve this goal (of providing mathematically accurate materials).”
Anika Krishnan, Gr. 7, said that writing the letters was a good idea so “other people would not get stuck on the same problems.” Arman Mortasavi, Gr. 7, agreed, and added, “I felt closer to the math world because I helped to make the changes.” Annika Jackson, Gr. 7, didn’t expect a response, but thought they would fix the mistakes. Huck Vaughan, Gr. 7, said he was surprised that the publishers didn’t send an automatic e-mail response. “I helped out the pros!” Vaughan exclaimed.
Although these students enjoyed doing tessellations, meeting new people and learning new math concepts, this experience was definitely not one they expected to occur in a summer math class. As Leela Amladi, Gr. 6, explained, “I didn’t expect it to be such a big deal, I just didn’t want others to be stuck on those problems. It’s like we corrected Grand Masters!”