Christmas Break

Any time is a good time to thank my readers.
You are the ones who know I’ve been doing a series on school experiences. I’m not sure why I would tell you what you already know. Isn’t it disturbing when someone knows what you know and tells you anyway?
Well, since it’s time for students to be on Christmas vacation, Christmas break, holiday break, holiday vacation, or whatever it’s being called this year, my blogs about school experiences will be on break until the new year.


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As I said in my “Skifoot and She” posts, most students with whom I dealt over the years were average. However, I was challenged often by many whose natural abilities far exceeded mine. But in my defense, like recognizing a good ‘gotcha’ I was not intimidated by or rejecting of young talent.

Emerging computer technology in the mid-1980s was a challenge to many teachers. My having some operational experience with 1960s military versions I had somewhat of an advantage but that’s another story.

I took a computer programing class and put what I learned to use. I wrote a 200-line program in BASIC (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) on an Apple II and adapted it for Atari and Heathkit computers. Math anxiety woodshop students entered data to determine the number of board feet1surface area in a project. Knowing the board feet was necessary for calculating the cost of a project.

Classroom trials of the program were satisfying so I developed a volume calculating program. Both programs were published in the vocational education journal School Shop.

I was comfortable with telling myself, “I’m keeping up with the techno-geeks.”

A technology ‘gotcha’ came into my life when a freshman student tried the program and said something like, “Mr. Benson, I believe I can make this work faster and appear better on the screen.” I took that as a challenge and gave him my raw data and the programs I’d written.

The next day he presented me with what he said he could do.2Wish I’d saved a copy of his work for comparison to mine.

I decided to be a computer user and let the younger and faster be the developers.

Skifoot and She II

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She’s twin, Skifoot, DID NOT have social anxiety disorder! Skifoot’s stated goal was to make the vice principal’s life as miserable as possible, and he shared that goal openly.

Skifoot got his nickname from having size 14 feet. And he was touted by his elementary school as ready for the ninth grade or above when he entered junior high school. Unlike She, Skifoot seldom missed a full day of school. He did, however, miss individual classes but as far as I knew he never left campus. Had DNA technology been as it is today, we could have had proof that the cigarette butts found in different places in the woods at the edge of the school grounds were his.

Except for being caught smoking once each quarter and taking the five-day suspension without protest, Skifoot was never caught doing any other thing punishable. I wasn’t privy to the specifics of what else he did to make the VP miserable, but his actions were often in discussion in the faculty lunchroom.

His only class with me was mechanical drawing in which he had 3 points for the semester. We had access to student scores in standardized tests when meeting with counselor about students having academic problems. Skifoot scored zero on two standardized tests that required broad knowledge. That would be very near impossible unless the test taker knew every correct answer in a multiple-choice test.

Skifoot’s parting remark to me on the last day of school, “Mr. Benson, you messed up my goal of getting all zeros. I’d given him and the other students three points, because I’d given a quiz and added three-free points to make it easier for me to calculate a score in my head.

Unlike his sister She, Skifoot dropped out of school. The last verifiable rumor I heard was that he was making more in cash as a gyppo logger than a starting teacher. An unverifiable rumor was that he had other cash crops at remote locations.

I lost track of the twins, but a former colleague told me he’d heard that Skifoot had been killed in a logging accident and She was doing research at an Ivy League college.

Skifoot and She I

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Most of the students with whom I delt over the years were average – a little ahead or a little behind the center of the normal distribution curve. But Skifoot was a genius! And his sister She was too.

Sister first:

She1Not her real name – but you probably guessed that. as one counselor told me would have tested somewhere in the high 140s or conceivably higher. I had She in just one class. When She was assigned to my all girl English class at the beginning of winter quarter, she had already missed most of the first ten weeks. You might remember is said my all girl English class was eighth grade. So why was She, a seventh grader, in that class? I’m not sure, and didn’t question it then.2This forum is not a good place for I really think/believe about the situation.

School policy for attendance, at the time, was: a student missing 15 days except for verifiable medical reasons would receive a failing grade. She’s record coming into my class revealed she had been at school the first few days and on the days for mid-quarter and end of quarter first quarter testing.

Transferred first quarter grade records showed that She had aced both the mid-quarter and quarter tests in the seventh-grade class in which she had been enrolled. With tests being only 40% of the grade, and her being absent all but 5 days, She was an F student in English and all other classes because her attendance was the same for each of them.

She’s parents didn’t return calls from me, other teachers, or counselors. At the end of the school year, letters went out notifying She’s parents that she would have to repeat 7th grade. She had been enrolled in seventh because her California school records showed her completing sixth while living apart from her local family.

I transferred to the high school that fall and lost track of She. I learned later that She tested through a GED program and qualified for admission to a university just shy of her 14th birthday.

We had no idea about She’s having social anxiety disorder. Her brother Skifoot, however was a different story.


Flag Pole

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One of the years I was at the junior high school, I taught a section of basic algebra.

Measurement using similar tringles was and is a practical application for algebra. Measuring the height of a tree on a sunny day is a good exercise of the application. Stand a yardstick vertically and measure its shadow. Measure the shadow of the other object and you have all the data you need. The rest of the steps for solution of the equal ratio problem (equivalent fractions) are in any math book or on the internet.

I assigned each team of three a vertical object in various locations on the school grounds to determine its height by the similar triangles method. Sim Triangles I had the principal’s permission to allow the teams to be out of the classroom for the problem solving assignment.

Teams assigned to determine the height of the football goal post, the shop building gable peak, the one-story cafeteria part of the main building, the main building itself, and a tree returned quickly. The flagpole team returned last but had no data.

The team recorder said something like, “Mr. B., we couldn’t get any data. The janitor had it on some sawhorses for painting1The pole itself was hinged at the bottom for that purpose or maintaining the top pully mechanism.. You wanted us to work out the height, not the length.”

I’m sure they knew I’d be asking them to show their math work for the solution and weren’t ready to fake it. 🙂


And I’m fairly certain they didn’t see my eye roll as I assigned them another object.