After our long winter’s nap, school has restarted for the youngest and for me. While we toil at our desks, the older of my two offspring is basking in the glow of her shiny high school diploma (which just came in the mail and which we need to have framed) and enjoying some time off before her course at culinary school begins. I’m still getting used to the idea of having a high school graduate in the house. Give me time.
So I am taking a winter intercession math class which is the one thing everyone tells you not to do. I am doing this because I am a little bit buried under prerequisites that I have to do before I can apply for a nursing program. Like two years worth. Naturally, I’m taking every class I can, whenever I can get it. The average intercession is only about 6 weeks long, and with all the damn holidays in the next month or two, this one is actually less than that. We are cramming a semester’s worth of algebra into 27 days. Class is 3 hours long, 5 days a week, and we’re averaging about two homework/study hours per every class hour. The Thai delivery boy and I are already on a first name basis and I figure it’ll be fine if I don’t clean the house until March. You know those rammed earth houses where you pound and pound the dirt into the wall frames, until it’s so tightly packed that no force on this earth could shake it loose? That is my brain on this algebra class.
On the first day, the prof walked in and before he even introduced himself, he wrote two things on the board.
2. Desperate and Determined
and said “If you do not fall into either of those two groups, I suggest you pick up your books and walk out of the class now. I will not think less of you. Doing this much math over the intercession is crazy. I would not do it if I were a student and I am good at math.”
That’s when I had an inkling that maybe I was going to be in trouble. I promptly ignored that inkling because I am
b. determined (to prove him wrong)
c. stubborn as hell
d. want to take a big stick and hit math with it very hard until it concedes
I am sure that my parents vividly remember back to my junior year in high school, when I was determined to test out early. I didn’t think I needed a high school diploma. I insisted that the test was exactly the same, and my parents and family and friends all said “Noooo, you do, and it totally like, isn’t.” and I said “Nuh uh.” and they said “Uh huh.” and it went on like that until I think we all wanted to beat each other with a big stick until the point was conceded. I was so stubborn I successfully won the right to shoot myself in the foot. I’m gifted like that.
My parents probably have an opinion about how well that all worked out, but I’m here to point at the last 20 years* of retail, clerical and food service jobs (while I’ve never said “Do you want fries with that?” I’ve certainly slung my share of lattes and waited enough tables) as evidence that perhaps my parents had a point. There was a bullet in my shoe and I am desperate to get rid of it.
Also, did I mention that I’m mad at math?
Long story short, I’m doing it.
Here are some things in math that (in just a few short days) I have learned to be true! And wrong.
Things that are WRONG in algebra.
When asked for “grouping symbols” things like “parenthesis, brackets, absolute value bars” are all correct answers. “Quotation marks!” is WRONG. Do not wave your hand and when called upon, yell that out. Your professor cock an eyebrow at where “GIFTED” is written on the board, and then with a wry shake of his head he will tell you that you’re in the wrong class, grammar is down the hall. You will feel like a dolt.
Do not sigh “OH WOW….. the magical powers of ZERO…” in an amazed tone of voice out loud, when your instructor is done explaining some nifty and mystical thing that zero can do. I don’t care if zero is the coolest thing since sliced cheese. Your professor will look at you funny. It’s really a special, inside voice kind of observation. You will feel like a dolt. Trust me, keep it in your pants.
When the professor looks at your work and politely asks you what the hell you think you are doing, do not throw up your hands in frustration and answer “I’m apparently doing the creative math! From Space!” because he’ll patiently tell you the obvious – that you actually need to be doing the regular math, like we do on Earth. If he’s a good professor, and mine is, he’ll then immediately demonstrate which Earth math property you have failed to understand, so that you can execute the problem correctly. And you will feel like a dolt. A simple “I don’t know.” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
When the prof said that this class had more “personality” than his advanced calculus students, I’m not sure he meant it as a good thing. I’m also not sure why he was looking straight at me when he said it.
Oh yes kids. Quotation marks, the mystical zero, and space math. I know these things are WRONG and you should not do them!
Ask me how!
*Everyone in college looks 20 years younger than me. I am just waiting for the day that I can look at some shiny whippersnapper and rattle off something like “Don’t teach Granny how to suck eggs.” or something. And shake my cane at them. Infants.