I am wearing my sportcoat as I address the class. This is unusual for me, but I feel it gives weight and formality to the speech. I finish thanking them for all their hard work to a slightly too loud round of applause. I silence them with a word, "But..." I let it trail off.
"We still have to do the math. On note paper everyone will list all their group's points and find the total as of right now. First group done gets 100 points, second group done gets 80, then 60, 40, 20, and the last group done gets 0. Go."
Five out of my six cooperative groups instantly flash into activity, quickly sending one member to record the scores from the poster in the back of the room and then discussing their attack of the problem. The sixth group only has five members but they are all much too young men to remind me of my great uncle Frank after a big Sunday supper. Tired and lethargic, they are all sitting slumped in their chairs. I sit in the empty spot, leaning back to emulate their posture. "Sup," I say with a slow nod.
Two of them get it right away and smile as they straighten up and get out a piece of paper. Looking at the other three in turn I continue in my warm, parent voice, "Guys. I know you have only gotten a few points but it doesn't matter."
Jesus mumbles into his hooded sweatshirt, "Right. It doesn't matter. We can't win."
"You wanna bet?" I ask. "If I can prove to you that you can win, will you do all the work?"
As one, the five members of group six nod at me. I keep talking as I grab the big bag of realistic looking fake pennies from my shelf. "Do you guys know these fake pennies cost two cents apiece? That's right, they paid $20 for this bag of one thousand pennies. Wouldn't it have been cheaper for them just to use real pennines?"
By now I am seated back with group six and I am pulling out a big handful of those fake pennies. "OK. Let's say you win week one. Here are your points." I give Jesus one penny and continue, "You win week two as well and remember I told you that the points double every week." I hand Jesus two more pennies.
"You rock," I say with a smile. "You guys win weeks three and four too!" I make a show of counting out two piles of pennies. "Week three doubles up to four pennies and week four gives you eight more pennies." I hand over the twelve pennies and continue. "So in week five the winner gets how many pennies?"
All five guys at the table are leaning forward with their hoods down and are looking at me. Angel speaks first. "Eight times two is sixteen," he says flashing much whiter teeth than my own. "Hand 'em over." Angel reaches out his hand expectantly.
I count out sixteen more and slide them into his hand faking reluctance. "Just to make a point, let's also say you win the next two weeks so only the final week remains. How many more pennies do you get?"
Again Angel is first to answer. "32 and then 64," he says nodding his head in certainty. "You seriously gonna give me all that?"
I am already counting and placing all 96 of the pennies into the center of their group pod of desks so they can all grab some. "Count them up and tell me how many you have now?"
This takes them too long as their social skills also lag behind the rest of my groups and they argue over who will count them, but they finally come up with 127. I know I have them as I pause to look into their confident faces and say, "How much do I win when I win week eight?"
Angel frowns as he says, "One hundred and twenty eight?"
"Yes," I say patting him on the back. "Good math skills. So, which is more, 127 or 128?" I smile as they realize my point, then I slowly get up and check the next group as group six gets to work.