Sunday, 5 February 2012

Storytelling Sunday: A textbook tangle

It's the first Sunday of the month which means one thing: it's Storytelling time over at Sian's blog; From High in the Sky.  You can hop over there to see lots of stories from the lives of scrappers and bloggers and crafters across the globe.  But first I hope you'll join me for a school story from the last fortnight or so.

A Textbook Tangle

(or: Reasons why Miss Smith should stop making things up to amuse her students)

A good maths textbook is worth its weight in gold.  Because at the end of the day, no matter how many bells and whistles your lesson has, maths is like any other skill.  You have to practise it.  And a textbook saves you a great deal of time making up questions.

Our textbooks are written by a chap called David Rayner.  For the most part, there are sensible, in black and white with neat rows of maths questions marching down the page.

But every so often there’s a surprise...


On of my Year 7s hands waved into the air.

"What's good in da hood, sunshine?"

"What, miss?"

"How can I help?"

"Do we have to do question 18?"

I plucked my textbook from the desk and sauntered over to him, reading.

The banana man of Tesco became famous after he realised that he could earn money buying bananas from the supermarket.  The store's reward point system had a mistake so that every time the man bought a pound of bananas for £1.26, he received £1.43 in points.  The supermarket were effectively paying him to take away the fruit.  The gentleman loaded his car with bananas, took them to his own shop and then returned to get more.  He bought a total of 728lbs of bananas.
a) How much did he spend on the bananas?
b)What was his total profit?
c) What was the weight of the bananas in kilograms?
d) Do you like bananas?

"Of course you have to do question 18.  And show all your working.  Neatly."

"But miss, even part d)?"


He grinned at me. "But I can't show my working for that, can I?"

"Oooh, I think you can.  Now, as we're in maths, I'm not really interested in your subjective opinion like in English or something.  So you could consider the problem in the light of a statistical study.  For instance, consider a twelve-month period.  If you can reference a particular number of number of banana consumption incidents where the enjoyment frequency was high then you can probably conclude, within a certain margin of error, that you like bananas.

"However, if you haven't eaten any bananas in the last 12 months, it doesn't automatically mean that there's no banana satisfaction factor.  It might simply mean that no opportunities for banana consumption existed.  So your data would be inconclusive and you could instead conduct a series of trials during the coming week and hand your exercise book in after that.

"If, on the third hand, you have documented cases of banana refusal due to prior unpleasant experience, you many assume that banana dislike is the cause.  Similarly, cases of banana-induced vomiting may be indicative of dislike.  Or food poisoning.

"So, that's the minimum I expect you to show.  Any questions?"




"I like banana milkshake".


There are others.  When I regaled Y9 with the banana question, they eagerly reminded me about a particular question 3 in the review exercise.  There's a picture of lots of people squashed higgledy-piggledy into a car and the accompanying question reads: "You can see the legs of one girl poking out of the front window.  What is she saying to the person on her right?".  When you look up the answer in the answer book it says that the correct solution is: "You do the steering wheel and I'll operate the break".

Incidently, there are no suggested answer the banana question.

I like to imagine that David, writing textbooks for a living, occasionally gets a bit fed up and slips something like this in just to see if he can get it under the radar.  After all, we all do silly things from time to time.  Some of us even do silly things regularly.  But these occasional nonsense questions betoken a dry sense of humour in the author that amuses me when it peeps through.


"I love David Rayner" I announced to me Year 9s.  Apropos of nothing in particular.

"But miss, he's really boring and he writes maths textbooks."

I turned a severe expression on the student. "He is not boring.  In fact, he is a rock star."


"Yes!  Well, metaphorically speaking.  He's the rock star of the maths textbook world."

"Small world"


"Nothing, miss.  Sorry."

"I should think so to.  Anyway, he must be a rock star, because he has an entourage."

"How do you know?"

"It says so in the front of the book.  Images credited to some ladies called Emma, Amy, Sheen and Paulina.  They're his entourage and they do the pictures."

"Miss, the pictures in the book are rubbish.  There's one here of a CD being dipped in milk.  And the question next to it is about VAT"

He had a point.

I conceded gracefully. "OK, so maybe the pictures are a bit...weird but at least it's got pictures.  And David Rayner really only hired them to do pictures because, as the rock star of the maths textbook world, he needed an entourage.  And so he's got Amy, Emma, Sheena and Paulina.  One wears plusses, one minuses, one timeses and one divide signs, and he goes to rock star parties with two on each arm."

"I bet he's old miss."

I have no idea how old he is, but I wasn't prepared to back down in my defence of David Rayner. "Nah, he's 28" I invented cheerfully.

"Yeah, he's probably bald too.  With a beard."

When you're 13, having a beard is apparently a sign of great age.

"I wonder what he sounds like?" one student enquired.

I glared at them collectively.  "Look, he's 28 and not bald with no beard and he has a lovely Scottish accent."


"Because he lives in a castle in Scotland.  He's Scottish."

"Miss, do you know him?"

"Er... no.  Not exactly.  But I've Googled him.  Nothing came up though.  But I'm going to marry him one day.  And we're going to set up our own school in the castle in Scotland and use his textbooks to teach people maths.  And probably some other stuff as well, but I'm not qualified for that."

Bizarrely, this they seemed to accept.  Quiet reigned for about 30 seconds.

"He probably spends all his time playing bowls miss."

"David Rayner does not play bowls!  Now enough!  Get on!"


They started to request stories about the infamous David Rayner during lessons.  So I made them up.  It was easy.  And it kept them quiet and amused and everyone was happy.  Only this week, my Year 9s arrived to their lesson in a state of barely concealed state of glee.  They informed me proudly that they have started their own David Rayner appreciation website.  And one can like it on Facebook if one is so inclined.

They showed me.

Fortunately, they have not mentioned me.

This week, this all serves as a reminder that I should be careful what I say to the students.  You never know what's going to stick.  I just, on occasion, wish it was the maths.

Kisses xxx

P.S. My Year 9s have just finished their last David Rayner textbook and will be moving onto a GCSE textbook.  It’s written by somebody called Smith.  My Year 9s took this as a sign that it’s meant to be.

P.P.S. I asked my Mum if she thinks the website would count as libel, but she said probably not.  It’s (mostly) flattering.  So if you’re reading Mr Rayner, I’m sorry.  But I am genuinely a fan. 

P.P.P.S. I kind of hope he isn’t reading.


  1. Love it it would be even funnier if David Raynor does turn out to be an elderly bald gentleman with a beard who enjoys bowls! :D

  2. I wish you had been my teacher, I might have liked school!!

  3. Oh and Scattychick, I play bowls!!

  4. My goodness Miss Smith, how you mess with the minds of these young and impressionable lads!

  5. Never a dull moment in your class Miss Smith!! Loved your post.

  6. Loved the David Rayner story - I'll have to search FB now :D

  7. I loved the small world comment :)

  8. I am off to google right now! He sounds wonderful - with a very sympathetic (or myopic/rushed!) editor. I loved your story and especially your reply to the 'Do you like bananas question'... A born storyteller as well as teacher.

  9. Kids are brilliant, aren't they?! And bananas are the devil's fruit ...

  10. - seems like your year 9s aren't the only ones!

  11. Also, David Rayner does play bowls...

    He won the National Championships in 1968!

  12. What can I say, I wish you were my teacher Miss Smith.

  13. Another fantastic tale Miss Smith - I think Mr Raynor would enjoy such stories too!

  14. What a strange question for a math text book. It would completely throw my poor son for a loop. But your answer was funny :-)

  15. hilarious! these are the sorts of stories that students will remember forever!

  16. P.S. My students told me 30 was middle aged. God help us all!

  17. Wonderful! I wonder what the real Mr Rayner is like. I think you really should find out! Love the fact that you are entertaining your students so much, they must be the only kids in the country who can't wait for maths lessons!

  18. Wahhhhhhhh, & you didnt leave us a link to their web page (I cant find it on google either, lol)

  19. I think I might love him too. Especially if bananas are involved. Maths with bananas is the kind of maths I like. Tho,as TSO has just pointed out, the endless discussions she has with her father about how best to lay out her maths homework on the page would be further complicated with the introduction of fruit..

    Always a pleasure :) Thanks Kirsty for some food for thought. See what I did there..

  20. another hilarious story I even feel myself becoming a fan of David myself!! Lol xxx

  21. I think I may be becoming a fan as well!!!!!

  22. I think he would be really proud that some of his slightly mad moments are bringing a smile to people reading it as well as they did to him while he wrote it. The banana man story is actually true though and it brought about the rule that you can only purchase a certain amount of things on offer.
    PS. Wish you had been my maths teacher.
    PPS. Although you probably were not even born when I was in secondary school!

  23. what a brilliant story! I think you must be a brilliant teacher:) Love the kids making a facebook page - wonder if he knows?

  24. This is brilliant. your stories are always lovely and very funny!

  25. Very funny and I'd like to point out that Wookie had a beard at about 17/18 which even if you are 13 isn't that old... :lol:

  26. Haha another brilliant story here! You do make me laugh!