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I’m almost two months into my community college “Elementary Algebra” course and I’m killing it. I’ve got a cumulative 92% and actually scored 100% on my quiz last week.

Go, me!

The class meets four hours a week and I spend more than 20 hours a week on homework and studying for tests. It’s a part-time job.

A part-time job that gives me headaches and makes me swear at my laptop.

One of the coolest and most convenient changes since I was last in college (way back in 1986) is that the curriculum is online. No lie. We use MathXL for homework and it is awesome. Problems are graded instantly and there are multiple explanations for why you’re wrong, you dingbat.

My only issue is that sometimes when I click for help, MathXL tells me to start solving the problem by [whatever] and I have no idea how to do [whatever] which is why I asked for help, you infernal program from the depths of hell.

Otherwise, it’s great.

Plus, my instructor is amazing. She’s pragmatic, doggedly determined that her students succeed, and funny.

I’ve learned a lot about acceptance. It’s never made any sense to me that multiplying two negative numbers makes a positive number. I used to get so caught up in the not-making-sense that I stopped listening to whatever came next. Now I just accept it as a rule and move on. Millions of math students accept two negatives make a positive, I’m just gonna join that crowd. Screw it.

We’re currently learning to graph equations in a rectangular coordinate system. I’m deeply apathetic about this endeavor, but the only way past it is through it, so on I go. Rather than resist, I accept and keep plodding (or plotting, if you’ve had to do this kind of problem solving!) along.

I’ve found that I’m practically a savant with word problems. I actually prefer word problems to strings of numbers, which is really no surprise. Barb wants to know if that wallpaper border remnant on sale will be enough for the perimeter of her guest room? I’m her mathematical girl. Joe wants to build a dog run and needs to figure out the amount of fencing to buy? I got this.

The exception to my word problem brilliance is the planes, trains, and automobiles questions. You remember this crap: two trains leave Chicago going in opposite directions, traveling at different speeds, how long until they’re 798 miles apart? (These are called uniform motion problems and they suck. Plus, I just can’t work up any give a damn for them.) I spent hours and hours trying to master these and they still make my head swim.

It also turns out that math is actually pretty nonjudgmental. There’s a name for an equation which has a solution like this: 4=23. I thought that name was “wrong” or “damn it, I have to start over.” Nope. It’s called a contradiction. Crazy, right?

The transcript evaluator from the University called last week to request a fresh copy of my first college transcript as the one she had from 1980 on microfiche was unreadable. She had some tentatively bad news and I’m probably looking at three college level algebra classes (and G*d only knows what else). I hope there are lots and lots of word problems.

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