Monthly Archives: November 2009

Mathochism: Reporting versus bragging

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

When I decided to blog about returning to school to study math after years of fearing and hating it, I made a commitment to describe the whole experience. That included the good days and the bad, the aha! moments and the befuddled ones, the successes and the failures.

And frankly, I never expected it to go so well. I never thought I would pass the first class, and certainly never expected the dreaded Algebra would actually go so well the professor would seem disappointed I had not achieved perfection on the latest test.
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Mathochism: The great math hope

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

I got 90 percent on my third test. I am not unhappy about this; in fact, if I continue at this pace, I will get another A. Two math classes, two As. That is quite a feat for a math phobe!

However, as far as the dour math professor is concerned, that is not enough. You see, after getting that 100 percent, I stopped being the anonymous lady who scribbles notes in the front row. I became a symbol of a community college student who actually wants to learn something. I became The Great Math Hope.

The Great Math Hope has put in all math lab hours. The Great Math Hope has perfect attendance. And, most important, the Great Math Hope does even better on the chapter 5/6 test than the super-difficult chapter 3/4 test.

That last part is the rub.

Now, he didn’t give me any trouble for not getting 100 percent on the last test, but there was disappointment in his gaze as he returned my test. “Whitney” had let him down. “Whitney” was not brilliant after all. “Whitney’s” consistent As were likely a fluke, or worse, a cheat.

This is galling, but also a tremendous relief. Being anyone’s hope is exhausting. It strips you of your humanity, of your ability to screw up. I well remember one particularly painful break-up in my 20s, when a soon-to-be ex told me how disappointed he was that I was “just like everyone else.”

In other words, once I fell off his pedestal, he couldn’t bear to look at me.

The dour professor is not that bad. And honestly, I can’t worry about his disappointment at this point. “Whitney” may not be suited to be the Great Math Hope, but she plans to plod on just the same.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

Mathochism: You’ve got the beat

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

To get to the math building at my college, I often take a shortcut through the athletics building. Most of my walk through that building includes a long hall. On one side of that hall are doors leading to a cavernous gymnasium. On the other, there are multiple dance studios full of mirrors and barres.

Usually there’s a class going on in at least one studio as I go by, and there are leotard-clad students in the hall waiting for the next class, chatting to each other, stretching and practicing dance steps. Much of it seems to be modern dance, but there is also ballet and salsa.

No matter what style it is, though, I can always hear the instructor counting out the beat: “And one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!”

I’ve long been aware of the connection between music and math.

Musicians are often good at math, and mathematicians often enjoy music. Music is a form of math, relying on beats and notes and chords, and equations are a lot like compositions.

Moreover, a dance routine choreographed to beat of a composition is yet another equation.

Any equation can be plotted on a graph, as can a sound wave. And sound wave can be measured in pitch and volume, and the sound barrier, when broken, makes a loud bang.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but since I’ve been tackling my math phobia, I’ve become aware of math in unexpected places. I’ve long been aware of it in cooking and aviation and, obviously, computer science, but I’m curious to see where else I’ll find it. I suspect that math, like chemistry, is everywhere.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.