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Dear Mitch,

My big brother graduated last June from a teaching program and is very excited because he got a job as an assistant teacher a few towns away. He loves teaching and is now even more excited because he just got hired at the school he always wanted to teach at because that's where he went to school. Anyway, I just called a friend and told her, and she said that the math teacher at her sister's school always came up with clever costumes to wear for Halloween, because they had something to do with math and were really funny. She didn't know what any of them were, but I'm pretty good at making things and I wanted to make my big brother his first Halloween costume at his new job because it will be nice for his first year. My mother said she once read that when you worked in a school you were known for your Halloween costumes. I know it must seem really early to you to be thinking about this, because it's not even summer yet, but I was wondering if you could give me some ideas about it because I'm going away to camp for the summer and I really wanted to give it to him before I go...



Dear Super-Sister,

Well, I can tell you I've always loved Halloween, and there are several reasons for this:

  1. I LOVE candy!!!! (But these days I try not to overdo it and brush my teeth extra carefully afterwards!)
  2. I grew up in New York, and there the Halloween season, which, of course is autumn, is probably my favorite time of the year.
  3. I do indeed enjoy trying to come up with costumes that make my friends laugh, and I enjoy helping other people make whatever costume they'd like.
  4. I like to see other people's costumes and watch how much fun it is for people who usually seem serious to wear silly things!
  5. It's VERY close to my birthday!!

And Yes, your mom is right: Every year since I started working in schools as 'the math guy', I enjoyed coming up with costumes that make people think (first), then wonder, and finally laugh!

And here are some of the characters and items I've been for Halloween:

  1. Wearing all black -- except for a large cardboard #1 standing up on the top of my shoulder, I was... the invisible guy or force that 'carries the one' in borrowing and regrouping...
  2. I dressed as a large wild cat with a mane, and had students write numbers all over me ("number lion")
  3. (This one I would not do again and would not be thrilled to see others do it... I was younger and had not yet learned to be sensitive to issues that once just seemed so removed from my world that they seemed fair game for jokes. I wore a straight jacket, unmatched shoes, my pants backwards, and had numerals written all over me. I was, of course, a 'set of irrational numbers') Well, you asked.
  4. One year when I just wanted to be as downright silly as I knew how to be, I actually bought a huge round pumpkin costume. It was, of course, bright orange. I spray painted it black. And wore black everywhere else. (I was a decimal point).
  5. I wore my regular clothes except for a hat. (it was a baseball cap). And I made what looked like a plant growing out of the top of the hat. (geometry..."gee-I'm-a-tree?!)

For a school hat has a whole math department, I always thought it would be fun to come up with something that everyone in the department could wear and it would work together, like a number line, with each person a different number and little horizontal lines sticking out from their sides in each direction, so that when they line up...

But of course that requires the kind of planning and agreement that could be a challenge the night before. And, unlike you, who already has more wisdom and foresight, I usually found it hard to get excited enough to work on it until the pressure was on...

Hope this helps.

Congrats to your brother for having a sister like you!

(And, of course, for beginning his career in one of the greatest fields I have ever known: TEACHING.)