Unfortunately, life as math club kids isn’t always easy. In addition to extra homework, the three friends have two new problems. First, a string of mysterious burglaries has the whole neighbourhood on edge, including their parents. Then, they manage to earn unwanted attention from Robbie, the class bully. Luckily, Jordan, Justin, and Stephanie soon learn that their new club may give them the skills they need to solve both problems.
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Everything changed the afternoon she marched into our fourth-grade classroom, her black ponytail bouncing in rhythm with her footsteps.
"Hi everyone, I'm Stephanie," she announced from the front of the room.
I looked on in amazement. Here she was, a new kid in a new school where she didn't know anybody, and she walked in like she owned the place. That is so cool, I thought, wishing I had that kind of confidence.
For the first time that day, our teacher Mrs. Gouche smiled, and you could almost feel some of the tension from the morning easing.
"Class, this is Stephanie Lewis," she said. She looked down at the paperwork Stephanie had brought with her. "Her family just moved here from California. Stephanie's favorite subject is math and she loves to play soccer. I hope everyone will make her feel welcome. Stephanie, please take an empty desk. I'm sure you're going to love it here."
Stephanie smiled and made her way toward the empty desk right in front of mine. The first spitball hit her before she got halfway there. That's when Mrs. Grouch appeared.
When Mrs. Gouche was having a rough day, she sometimes snapped and her alter ego, who we called Mrs. Grouch, appeared. None of us were brave enough to call her that to her face, of course, except maybe Robbie Colson, who usually spent at least two days a week staying after school for detention.
"THAT'S IT!" she yelled, and the room became instantly silent.
To be fair, it wasn't really Mrs. Gouche's fault she was angry. It was after lunch by the time Stephanie arrived, and Mrs. Gouche had already been having a frustrating day. Robbie Colson and his band of bullies, which mostly consisted of Bill Cape and Bryce Bookerman, had been giving her a hard time all morning.
It had started just five minutes into the day when the dry erase markers went missing.
"Has anyone seen the markers?" she had asked. When no one answered, her eyes moved to Robbie. Even with no evidence, Robbie was a pretty good bet if you had to pick someone who had done something wrong.
"Don't look at me," he protested. "Why do you always think it's me?"
"Perhaps because it usually is, Robbie," she replied. "Are you sure you don't know anything about the markers?"
"How do you know someone didn't hide them in their desk?" Bryce asked.
"Yeah, I think I saw Susie playing with them a few minutes ago," Bill chimed in.
Susie McDonald had a look of shock on her face.
"Can you check your desk, please, Susie?" the teacher asked.
"But I didn't —" Susie started.
"I understand you didn't put them there, but can you please check?"
Susie opened the lid to her desk.
"It doesn't look like they're here, Mrs. Gouche," she said with a sigh of relief.
"Try looking under her social studies book," Robbie said to the teacher with an attempt at an innocent look.
Susie lifted the book and there they were. All the color drained from her face, and her shoulders shook as she started to sob. She looked like she might be ill at any moment.
"You three seem to know quite a bit about the inside of Susie's desk," Mrs. Gouche said, looking pointedly at the bullies as she put an arm around Susie's shoulders to console her.
The bullies protested, but I could see that our teacher wasn't buying any of it. It looked like another detention was in store for them.
"Jordan, can you walk Susie down to the nurse?" Mrs. Gouche asked.
"Yes, you, Jordan Waters. Or is there another Jordan in the room I don't know about?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," I answered lamely.
I walked Susie down the hall. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to go back, so I stood outside the nurse's office reading the health bulletin board until I heard my name being called. I looked down the hall and saw my best friend, Justin Grant, coming my way.
"You get lost coming back to class?" he asked.
"I was hoping to stay out here until English is over," I answered with a smile. "If I can stall until lunch then it's math class this afternoon."
I was a whiz in math and I loved to read, but I wasn't so good when it came to writing and spelling. Justin gave me trouble about this sometimes, but I didn't let it bother me since he's been my best friend since kindergarten.
"We'd better get back before Mrs. Gouche sends out a search party," Justin said. "If Robbie and his friends keep it up, there's no telling when Mrs. Grouch is going to show up."
I nodded glumly and slouched back to the classroom.
The rest of the morning had gone just as badly for Mrs. Gouche. It wasn't just the bullies either. Everyone seemed to be on edge and snapping at each other. But it was that spitball hitting Stephanie that finally put her over the edge.
Stephanie was still standing next to my desk. She had frozen in place when Mrs. Gouche yelled. I wondered what she had to be thinking — two minutes into my new classroom, and the teacher has already lost it.
Mrs. Gouche stared at everyone in the class, but saved her sternest looks for Robbie, Bill, and Bryce. Even Robbie wasn't brave enough to return that look. Instead, he pretended to be searching for something in his desk. Mrs. Gouche didn't say anything for a moment but you could tell she was thinking about her next step. What price would be paid for the day she had been through?
She decided to take her frustration out on the whole class. Why do teachers do that? I didn't hide the markers or shoot the spitball, so why should I be punished? If you want to know the truth, I think Mrs. Gouche was just looking for an hour of silence when she hatched her evil plan.
"Everyone get out a pencil and a sheet of paper. I'm giving you an assignment," she said, her eyebrows dropping into a sharp v.
The class responded with groans and frowns. Before Robbie could even open his mouth, Mrs. Gouche turned to him and said, "And if you say one word, Robbie Colson, one single word, I'll be on the phone with your parents before that word even reaches my ear. Is that understood?"
I hoped that he would say yes. I wanted to see if that counted as saying one word. But Robbie just nodded his head in silence. No kid, not even a member of Robbie's band of thugs, wanted a call made to their parents. Detention was nothing compared to what your parents could do to you.
"Here is your assignment. I want you to add up all the numbers from 1 to 100," she said with something like an evil grin. "No calculators and no talking while you are working," she added. "And be sure to check your answer before you bring it to me."
In stunned silence, I took out a sheet of paper and started to work.
1 + 2 = 3
This is terrible. It's going to take forever, I thought.
What a lousy way to spend an afternoon — and I like math! I wondered what the kids who didn't were thinking.
I'd only added the first five numbers when Stephanie rose from her chair and approached Mrs. Gouche, who was leaning back contentedly in her chair.
Mrs. Gouche was startled to see Stephanie standing in front of her with a piece of paper in her hand.
"What is it, Stephanie?" she asked.
"I'm finished, ma'am," Stephanie said with a smile.
Everyone in the classroom put their pencils down and watched the interaction.
"You added all of the numbers from 1 to 100?" Mrs. Gouche asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Stephanie responded.
"All one hundred numbers?"
"And you're certain your answer is correct?"
"Yes, ma'am," Stephanie replied politely.
"And what's the answer?"
"There's no way you could have added all of those numbers in less than a minute!" Mrs. Gouche said angrily. "You just made up a number."
"Want to bet a class pizza party on it?" Stephanie asked as her lips curved into a sly smile.
"You're on!" Mrs. Gouche growled.
The class watched as the teacher began to punch numbers into her calculator. "Staring at me isn't going to get you the right answer," she said to the class. "Get back to work!"
Forty minutes later, Mrs. Gouche stared at her calculator in disbelief. The number 5,050 stared back at her in glowing green digits.
Man, that pizza is going to taste great. I gave Stephanie a big grin as she returned to her seat.
"How did you do that?" I whispered.
"I'll show you after school," she replied.
And that's when the idea for the math club popped into my head. At the time, I had no idea where that idea would take us.CHAPTER 2
Robbie, Bill, and Bryce were in detention for hiding the dry erase markers in Susie's desk. The rest of the class had gone home except for Justin, Stephanie, and me. Justin and I listened in wonder as Stephanie explained how she had added the numbers from 1 to 100 so quickly.
"It was really pretty easy," she said. "Let me show you."
She went to the board and began to write as she explained.
"You see, I just put all of the numbers into pairs that would add up to 100. I put 1 with 99, 2 with 98, 3 with 97, and so on, all the way up to 49 and 51. That gave me 49 pairs that each added up to 100, so that was 4,900. The only numbers that didn't have a pair were 100 and 50, so I just added those at the end. 4,900 plus 100 plus 50 equals 5,050."
"That's amazing," Justin said in awe.
I should tell you that that's high praise coming from Justin, who isn't amazed by too many things. He's one of the smartest kids I've ever met, so when he says something is amazing, it probably is.
"I'm just glad that she didn't ask us to add up the numbers from 1 to 1,000," Stephanie remarked.
"That's for sure," I said. "But ..."
"But what?" Justin asked.
"Well, if your trick worked for the numbers from 1 to 100, why not for 1 to 1,000?" I asked.
"I guess it should," Stephanie said thoughtfully.
Justin didn't respond, but he was already writing on the board.
1 + 999 = 1,000
"We'll have 499 groups of 1,000, so that would be 499,000," Justin said.
"And don't forget to add the 500 and 1,000 'cause they don't have a pair." I added.
"So the answer will be 500,500," Stephanie said.
The three of us stared at the board. Someone with really good hearing might have actually heard the wheels turning in our heads.
"That's amazing," Justin said for the second time. "That means we could do the same thing for any group of numbers, couldn't we?"
It wasn't really a question. You see, Justin is always thinking ahead. He doesn't want to just learn something. He wants to really learn it and then figure out other ways to use it. My dad would call him someone who thinks outside the box, but I'd go a little further than that. I'd call Justin a guy who thinks outside the entire room.
Fifteen minutes later, the board was filled with calculations. We had added the numbers from 1 to 10,000, from 1 to 100,000, and even from 1 to 1,000,000.
It wasn't until we were done and had written all the answers on the board that we saw something even more unbelievable. As usual, Justin saw it first.
1 to 100 5,050
"That's amazing," Justin said for the third time in an hour, which had to be a new world record for him. "Do you see the pattern?" he asked.
Stephanie and I looked for a moment, and then there it was. When we added the numbers from 1 to 1,000, the answer was 500 followed by another 500. For 1 to 10,000, the answer was 5,000 followed by another 5,000.
"So, we could do this for any group of numbers without even having to add up all of the pairs," Stephanie said. "The answer is just half the number written twice."
She started to go on but was interrupted by a voice in the doorway.
"Well, isn't this cute. Nerds doing math." Robbie leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed. His large body was blocking the way to the hall, and Bill and Bryce peered over his shoulders.
"Here's some math for you — teacher's pet times three equals nerds," Bill chimed in.
Robbie and Bryce laughed as if it was the funniest joke they'd ever heard.
"And you, new girl, it's your fault we got detention," Robbie snarled.
"My name is Stephanie. And let me see if I've got this straight." She raised a forefinger. "Somehow it's my fault that your spitball managed to hit me, even with your pitiful aim?"
Robbie stared at Stephanie without saying a word. His fists balled up at his sides as his face began to turn a purplish red color. He took two steps toward us, followed closely by Bryce and Bill. This wasn't good. Not good at all.
"Hey, what are you kids still doing here? Didn't get enough learning for one day?" It was the loud, happy voice of the school janitor, Old Mike. He wasn't really that old, but that was what everyone called him. Old Mike will take care of that spill. Ask Old Mike where you can get a new pencil sharpener. Make sure Old Mike locks up the back door when he's done cleaning for the night.
I didn't care what they called him. I just knew I was never so happy to see him.
"We were just leaving," I said quickly.
Before I lost the chance, I walked past Robbie, hopping to avoid the foot I knew he would stick out to try to trip me. And then we were past the three bullies and into the hallway.
"Have a great day, Old Mike," I called back as we hustled down the hall, leaving a trio of scowling faces behind us.
We were safe for now, but I had a bad feeling that we weren't going to get off that easy. I clenched my teeth. Fourth grade is hard enough without bullies drawing a target on your back.
We walked home together. We figured there was safety in numbers, although I didn't know how many people I would need to feel safe around Robbie and his buddies. It turned out that Stephanie's family had moved to the street right behind ours, so she was only about four houses away if you cut through back yards. Justin was across the street from me and five houses down, so I was almost exactly in the middle of the three of us.
"That was really cool what you did with that addition trick," I said as we stopped in front of Stephanie's house. "I bet you'll be in the yellow math group with us starting tomorrow."
"Good. My last school was pretty boring most of the time. We didn't have different math groups, so there wasn't the chance to work at our own speed," Stephanie replied.
"And it wasn't really a trick, you know," she added. "It was just looking at the numbers a little differently."
Justin nodded his head and said, "Mm-hmm," but you could tell he was thinking. That isn't unusual for Justin. He is always thinking about something. And when he's deep in thought, he always replies mm-hmm to anything you say. I sometimes make it into a game and try to guess what he's thinking about, but I'm hardly ever right. Once, on the way to school, we were talking about baseball when he went suddenly silent. In my head, I tried to figure out what problem he was trying to solve. Was he calculating the batting average of the Washington National's best hitter? Was he trying to figure out the odds of a team making the playoffs when they were five games out of first with only eight games to play? It turns out I wasn't even close. He was trying to figure out how he could defeat the troll on level three of the latest video game he was playing.
"Justin, do you want to eat at my house tonight?" I asked. "We're having fried worms."
Stephanie gave me a questioning look, but Justin merely replied, "Mm-hmm."
Yes, he was definitely deep in thought. I gave him a few seconds to finish thinking, and when he looked around like he wasn't sure how he had gotten here, I knew he was back. I never did find out what he was thinking about because I chose that time to make my suggestion.
"We should start a math club," I said.
"A math club?" Justin asked.
"Yeah. We could work on tricky math problems. My dad has a lot of cool math books and puzzles. Maybe we could even enter some math competitions as a team," I said.
"Count me in!" Stephanie said, nodding her head. Her ponytail bobbed up and down with each nod.
"I'm in too," Justin added.
"We could meet on Saturday mornings, and we —" I began.
"Um, Saturday mornings aren't good for me," Stephanie said. "I have soccer practice."
"Well, when is soccer season over?" Justin asked.
"It's never really over," she replied. "There's a fall season, then the winter indoor soccer league, then spring season. And then there are camps during the summer, which are usually mostly drills but still fun and a good anyway ..."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Math Kids: The Prime-Time Burglars"
Copyright © 2018 David Cole.
Excerpted by permission of Common Deer Press.
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