14 Say 5

1 in 100,000,000,000,000 odds

I’m teaching a class of 14 grade 11s how to program in a language called C++ (pronounced “see plus plus”). We’re working on some simple programs to get the hang of variables (“x”), assignments (“x = 7”), comparisons (“x < 15"), and decisions ("if (x < 15) { launch_missile; }"). At one point, we were investigating how to manipulate numbers using different operators, and so I said, “Okay, somebody just shout out a number for me.” In absolute unison, 14 voices said, “Five!” Everybody’s eyes opened wide, and a few of us said, “Whooooa,” and then we laughed. A nervous, slightly disquieted laugh. There was no reason they should have been stuck on five. We had been using “signed integers” which means they should have been accustomed to offering any number from -32768 to 32767.

Ed’s Note: Don’t you remember signed integers from high school? Oh wait, of course not. You’re not a nerd!

Even if we assume that the kids were somehow anchored to selecting a number between 1 and 10, the odds of them all picking 5 are 1 in one hundred trillion.

Is this just more evidence that schools are factories for like-thinkers?


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