I was sorely disappointed today, as I am every year at this time, to discover that fifteen-year-olds cannot count to fifty.
Every year, hope springs eternal. Surely this will be the year that I can give a cup of fifty pennies to a group of ninth-graders, and they will return that same cup full of fifty pennies at the end of the class period. Au contraire. This is not the year.
Today marked the Fourth Annual Mrs. Hillbilly Mom Paper/Penny Bridge Contest. Students were placed in groups of three, randomly, by the drawing of index cards with their names on them. Each student built a paper bridge able to span an eight-inch gap and hold as many pennies as possible. No tape or paperclips allowed. Each group then tested their three bridges to determine which one to enter in the finals, to be held on Monday. At stake are ten bonus points for each class period winner, with five bonus points for second, and three for third.
Each year, at the conclusion of the contest, Mrs. Hillbilly Mom sits alone after school and counts out fifty pennies at a time. She does this by placing pennies in stacks of ten, then putting five stacks in a penny roll. Kind of a fool-proof method. Mrs. Hillbilly Mom has a master's degree. Which may or may not be in penny-rolling. Each May, she removes the baggie full of rolled pennies from her classroom cabinet, confident that each roll still contains fifty pennies. She opens the end of the roll, and pours the pennies into a bright green Solo cup. Though more pennies remain in rolls, available for the finale on Monday, Mrs. Hillbilly Mom has a strict rule about only practicing with six cups of fifty pennies each. Because she knows there will be issues.
First hour, upon taking their cup of pennies to their work area, a group called out, "We only have 49 pennies!" Funny how a penny can evaporate right out of a paper tube and Ziploc bag in the course of twelve months. This declaration emboldened a second group. "Yeah! We only have 49 pennies, too!" A third group, well into the testing process, having borrowed other cups of pennies, announced, "These two cups had 47 and 48 pennies! And we need more to put on our bridge."
I handed them a fresh cup, one that had not been used due to the small class size. Nobody had touched it since I poured the 50 pennies in. The testing group used that whole cup. And announced, "We're going to win! Our bridge is holding 153 pennies right now!" Because, you see, in Hillmomba, 47 + 48 + 50 = 153. I told them they were full of baloney. Either they couldn't count to fifty the first time, or they couldn't count to fifty three times.
By fifth hour, when I saw the ringleader in the lower hallway, he declared that his bridge had held 157 pennies.
Here's how the kids count pennies: they hold a fistful, and plink them out with their thumb while counting out loud. Not so accurate, compared to stacks of ten.
After second hour, I had to count those six cups of pennies again. Wouldn't you know it? I came up with 300 pennies.
That's because I have a master's degree.