Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Making Over Math

"Ask yourselves: what problem have you solved, ever, that was worth solving, where you knew all of the given information in advance?" -Dan Meyer's TED Talk, "Math class needs a makeover"
Denise watched the gum and milk roll down her black rubber conveyor belt. They were only two items, but the customer let them ride down to her. She picked them up, scanned them, then offered the gum back to the customer. He opened it and stuck a piece in his mouth.

She said, “That’s a dollar for the gum and three-thirty for the milk.”


“Seven dollars is your total.”

He pulled out a ten. “Can I get change?”

“Oh, we have a cash discount. Now it’s only eight dollars.”

He smiled and blew a proud bubble. She gave him his change. When he left, she pocketed the difference.

The next person came along, a mother with a screaming kid and a cart full of cleaning supplies, cookware and out middle-aged nightmares. She rang this one up honest, because she didn’t have the heart to rip off a mom who had to live with those decibels of crying.

But the next lady in line had Haggen Das and instant cappuccino. She wore narrow two-inch heels and a vermillion pantsuit that reeked of perfume Denise couldn’t afford.

“Three-eighty-three for the ice cream, eleven even for the cappuccino. That’s thirty-one dollars.”

The lady debited it, and didn’t even ask why the teller had her sign two different receipts. She left both behind.

Denise saw her manager coming towards her, trying to wipe his hands on his khakis when he thought nobody was looking.

“Denise, you haven’t been overcharging people have you?” he asked as he came down her aisle. “We got a couple of complaints, but the customers aren’t sure. You know they toss receipts.”

“It’s probably nothing,” she demurred. She popped her register open. “But I have copies of all my receipts. The information’s all here if you want to check.”

“No, I’ll trust you. If the information’s all there, it’s not worth it.”

Denise scrunched up her nose and nodded. “Yeah.”

(This was inspired by Dan Meyer’s TED talk. You can view that 11-minute lecture here. Despite my making fun of it, I think Meyer has a fine point. It’s well worth watching.)


  1. I wonder how often anyone has tried this? I've also seen the cashier become lost when the register breaks.

  2. I think the customers definitely need refresher courses!


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