I’m a fan of *Person of Interest*, a TV series about a software genius and an ex-CIA agent who work together, in secret, to prevent violent crimes before they can happen. In a recent episode Mr. Finch goes undercover as a substitute teacher to protect a high school student.

There are ≥ 3 clips of interest to (math) teachers. The first:

First off, I am well aware that this is fiction. The teacher receiving a last-minute opportunity to attend an all expenses paid teaching seminar in Maui is a dead giveaway. Still, part of this depiction of mathematics teaching may painfully ring true.

“Math is *not* punishment,” Mr. Finch/Swift says when a student explains that the classroom teacher has left busywork. Often, tedious problems *are* used as classroom management. Students are assigned one to fifty-nine odd only because there are forty-five minutes left in a seventy-seven minute period. I’ve been an eyewitness to teachers using math as punishment. They play good cop/bad cop (“You guys have worked hard today, so no homework”/”Get to work, or I’ll assign the evens”). I, too, may have been guilty of this. The message is undeniable: math is unpleasant. Behave, or do math.

Mr. Finch/Swift is surprised and disappointed to learn that he has been left to teach addition. “That can’t be right.” It *isn’t* right. But it isn’t uncommon. He feels this is below his students. He wants to elevate the problem from arithmetic to mathematics: “Who’d like to take a crack at working out Gauss’ equation?” Finch/Swift provides a hint: 100(100 + 1). Like most math teachers, he means to be helpful. However, by trying to be helpful, he may have scaffolded problem-solving out of the problem for his students. At least he would have, if more than one of them were actually listening to him. The solution is 100(100 + 1)/2. Dividing by two. That is all that is left for his students to figure out. The rest is ‘rithmetic.

A sneak peek at Episodes 2 & 3: A Statistically Improbable Score & What It’s Good For.