Friday, November 18, 2011

Math, We Meet Again.

I very clearly remember a commercial from when I was a kid that featured a college type student running into a classroom late, seeing an abundance of incomprehensible math on the chalkboard and a droning teacher, and realizing he was in the wrong class. Who knows what was being sold in this commercial (alarm clocks?), but it stuck with me. I’m actually reasonably sure that I remember it for its college feel, having been a big honking nerd from a young age, but it turns out that the MATH part also stuck with me, because when I had nervous dreams about college before starting undergrad, they often featured those same walls of horrifying math.

I have never been good at math. This applies to all math, starting from a very basic level. I have many friends who, because they are kind and wonderful, cannot comprehend the depth and breadth of my math problems, the logic being something like “but you are smart, math should not be hard for you.” This may be true, but does not change the reality of my math situation. I would like to be good at math. I actually quite enjoy the application of math – I’m very good at Physics, of all things – and I really enjoy the satisfying “this is THE answer because MATH” conclusions that are possible. Even setting up algebra problems is reasonably satisfying to me. I like the order of it all. The problem is that I am the queen of basic math errors and I have a hard time connecting the math I’m doing to an actual result. I think this is why I like geometry but hate more or less everything else. If you do yourself some geometry, you can get your protractor out (oh man, I love protractors!) and you can test that shit on paper. The basic math issues are compounded by the basic limits of my math education; I only took Algebra I and II, Geometry and Trigonometry. No Calculus, not even pre-Calc.

Needless to say, this is making my Quantitative Research Methods class a little horrible.

If anyone is one of those political scientists who is like “I-I-I-I-I-I-I don’t wanna debate, I just wanna run me some stats all day,” I have a professor you need to meet. Two, actually, because I know that one of our other professors is like this too. The poor soul tasked with teaching me statistics is all over the math stuff, and he’s actually quite good at connecting it all with real world scenarios, which is endlessly helpful, but he also does a LOT of mathing and he appears to think that it explains something to me, which of course it does not because I do not speak math. The main problem is that I need some kind of remedial course and the professor has been lead to believe that he has been given people who are at least marginally competent. This brings me back to the classroom ad, because Quant has brought my nightmares to life. I have adopted a coping mechanism I like to call Write Everything Down Meticulously and then Hope that Later It Will Make Sense, Perhaps After I Skype My Friend Dan, Dan the Mathy Man. I try to note wherever the professor indicates some kind of revelation, to wit:

Oh, by the way, that’s the third page of that proof. The rest of it looked like this:
It's fuzzy because math is the natural enemy of cameras.
Okay actually I was on a train.  Whatever.
Some of you might notice that this is actually fairly difficult stats stuff. That’s because it’s toward the end of the semester, and we’re getting into regression and all that good stuff. You may be thinking, “now Josie, it’s not so bad, many people could get confused by this stuff!” Yeah, here’s some stuff from week…two or so.
Now, to be fair, I finally got a handle on the above section of chaos, but I am still largely adrift.  The good thing is that the professor hands us solution sheets back with our homework, so I am able to go back and take apart the problems and usually connect them to my notes.  I think the problem with my notes is the same one I have had for years, that being that I'm notating something that makes sense to me in class, but then when I get home to do the homework, for whatever reason, the information has slid off my brain and the notes now correspond to nothing.

Class will be over soon and I won't have to do any more graded math, but I really wish that it would click so I could do this stuff more easily.  I guess I should just pray for technology to advance until I can have math uploaded to my brain Matrix-style.


  1. EW. NOTHING ABOUT THIS LOOKS EXCITING. NOTHING AT ALL. I'm glad I went to school for dance.Uhhhhhh???