Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Astronomical Hope

Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought-- particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things.
Woody Allen (b. 1935)
I am yet seeking to find this hope and comfort, as although the volume of my house is "trivial" (as we say in mathematics) we can still never find the remote! What's up with that?!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seasons of Life

This has always been one of my favorite seasons. I love autumn, the crunch of the leaves, the colors of the trees, the crisp coolness in the air. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it is soon approaching, and Reformation Day (which was this past Sunday) is one of my favorite church services, because it contains such powerful, meaningful music - often accompanied by brass or organ.

As life goes on, seasons keep having more meaning and memories added to them - happy and sad. We soon will mark the one year point after David's stroke (November 2). What has become part of this season now too is that it is also the time of year when we remember Dad going home to be with Jesus, October 28, 2004 - the joy he is experiencing there and the fact that we will be reunited with him someday, but the sadness of all that he and his family are missing out on by not getting to be here together anymore. Sixty-seven is far too young to lose a husband, dad and grandpa - so many years and events yet to come that we'd sure love him to be here for - high school graduations, college graduations, weddings, great-grandkids, family times. We were so privileged to be able to have him perform our wedding ceremony and the baptisms of all our children.

It's hard to believe it's been 4 years. It's VERY hard to believe it's been 4 years.

Dad was a pastor and had a pastor's heart. Next to that he was most well known for his sense of humor, which you can see in the picture I'm including, and which I hear (for better or for worse) in my husband and my children multiple times EVERY day. The humor gene must run deep (the pun-humor gene). In that way, as in many others he certainly lives on!!Dad always had something to teach us - like hanging spoons off our noses!The Michigan grandkids at Dad's gravesite 2 years ago.The California grandkids.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

it Must be your

"though your sorrows not
any tongue may name,
three i'll give you sweet
joys for each of them
But it must be your"
whispers that flower

murmurs eager this
"i will give you five
hopes for any fear,
but it Must be your"
perfectly alive
blossom of a bliss

"seven heavens for
just one dying,i'll
give you" silently
cries the(whom we call
rose a)mystery
"but it must be Your"
e. e. cummings (1894-1962)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting The Word Out!

POST SCRIPT: You night want to bring a calculator to try to beat him at calculations - or to do some tricks along with him.
If you live in my area, this is for you! (If you don't but ever hear this is coming to your area, don't miss it!) There is a REALLY COOL thing happening in town THIS FRIDAY NIGHT, but it was published incorrectly in the paper today - making it sound like it was for tonight.

The performer is SO GOOD that the last time he was in town late-comers to the event had to watch from another room via live video feed because there was no seating left. He has presented his high energy talk on over a thousand occasions to audiences throughout the world. He has appeared on many television and radio programs, including: The Today Show, CNN, Amazing Discoveries!, and National Public Radio. He has been profiled in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, Omni Magazine, Esquire Magazine, People Magazine, and Reader's Digest. That's quite a diverse set of periodicals! And yet, this performance is FREE!

Dr. Arthur Benjamin is a mathemagician, but don't let the first four letters of that word turn you off. (Yes, it has been point out to me that "math" is a 4-letter word.)

This man is AMAZING! He talks about how ADHD actually helped him as a student, and he is certainly STILL ADHD - and amazing just to watch perform - very high energy. It's fun. It's entertaining. And you might just learn something if you're not careful - but it won't be painful, I promise!

This show is for people of all ages, so come on out and bring the fam! If you can't make it but know someone who might enjoy it, please send on the info. I'd hate for people to miss out due to a newspaper error. It is taking place at MJC WEST Campus - the campus by the highway and Briggsmore - in the Mary Stuart Rogers building (the space-age-lookin' building with a flag pole on top.) Just follow the crowds if you're not sure where that is. It starts at 7:30 and should last until about 8:45. You'll be glad you came!

I'm hesitant to do the following, because it does not do justice to what he is like in person nor the wide variety of things he does, but if you cannot make it due to time or distance, you can see a clip of him performing here. For more mathemagic fun, click here or here!

After initially posting this I found a map of campus. The Mary Stuart Rogers Building is number 33.


Anthony has been achieving a new personal best meet after meet in cross country. That's his goal each time he goes out. Today his time was 19:40 for the 3-mile, each mile being pretty consistent today right around 6:30. These are pictures from his season. When I get a chance I hope to post a few more pictures below these three of things relating to the meets. Yea Anthony! I'm a proud momma!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Immortality 2

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work . . . I want to achieve it through not dying.
-Woody Allen (b. 1935)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Immortality 1

Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. "Immortality" may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.

G. H. Hardy (1877-1947)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Favorite Organ Pieces (Top 3)

1) Fanfare (Allegro non troppo) in D major
by J.N. Lemmens (1823-1881)

2) Nun danket alle Gott (Now Thank We All Our God)
by J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

3) Toccata and Fugue in D minor
by J.S. Bach (1685-1750)


Sinfonia Cantata 29
by J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Salmo XVIII (I've always heard this called Psalm 19)
by Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MOST Frequently Asked Question

A few years back Mattel got in big trouble for one of the statements its "Teen Talk Barbie" made: "Math class is tough."

Historically women are under-represented in mathematical fields. Often I've heard female students of mine who are coming back to school in their 30's say that when they were in high school a counselor told them not to worry about math - that girls aren't good at it and don't need it. That comment terrified them and kept them from taking math, which barred them from many professions and put their lives on hold to some degree until they were able to overcome that fear and return to school (and nearly all of these women did very well - typically scoring at or near the top of the class.)

So, anyway, of course Barbie's message is not the one we want to send out. This is not just a problem for females, though. I have found through 22 years of teaching mathematics that many (or most) people, BOTH male and female DO think "math class is tough." When things get particularly tough the following INVARIABLY happens. A hand goes up; I call on the person; the question comes: "Why do we have to learn math; when am I going to use this in my real life?" as if on cue.

This is so predictable I can almost tell what week of the semester we are in by when this question comes up. It is interesting to me that it never comes up at the beginning when we are doing review, and the material is relatively easy. It seems people don't care how something is going to be useful to them as long as it is not too hard, but when it gets hard that is the MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION. (I have actually begun addressing that question during the first week of class since I know it is going to come up, but I'm finding people seem to forget by week 7 what I said during week 1). What I share with them is this FANTASTIC one-page article written by a middle-school math teacher.

SO, after 22 years, I have finally decided to handle this (M)FAQ by WRITING the answer and putting it up on the internet rather than answering it on the fly each time I get the question.

Please check in again soon. I will have MY answer up and hyperlinked within the next couple of days as to WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO LEARN MATH. (I'm not being sarcastic. I do see it as a legitimate question, and it makes sense that people would ask this of something into which they are investing a lot of time and effort. And it is because I see this as a legitimate question that I want to give a substantial legitimate answer.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008


God is a distant -- stately Lover --
Woos, as He states us -- by His Son --
Verily, a Vicarious Courtship --
"Miles", and "Priscilla", were such an One --

But, lest the Soul -- like fair "Priscilla"
Choose the Envoy -- and spurn the Groom --
Vouches, with hyperbolic archness --
"Miles", and "John Alden" were Synonym --
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

There is an update on DAVID at his link at right.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bedside Books

Here is a list of some of the books by the side of my bed - within easy reach in case I get time to read! - and the reason each book is there.
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is ON TOP of the stack. Although I don't have time right now to read this 1168-page tome, I must have it at my bedside right now to at least dip into. It is a voice of clarity and reason amid the economic craziness in the US and now the world. If I could make one book mandatory reading for every politician and everyone involved in finance, this would be it. Had they all read it, we would not be in the mess we are in right now!!
I always have a book about math or a mathematician nearby- because like Pascal I find math clears my mind and heals me with its purity and logic. This one I am currently reading because it is light and fun and because I am giving a conference talk at the end of the month on making math fun for elementary students, and this book contains material that will tie into my talk really well.
The Shack too I have already read, but it, like Atlas Shrugged, is one I need to go back to and will go back to over and over again. I know there is a big hoopla over this book right now - pro and con. I'm thankful I read it the first time before hearing any of that. I don't use the phrase "life changing" lightly, but I put this book in that category for myself.
The reading for my next Inklings Book Club meeting is in here: Leaf by Niggle - a shorter work by Tolkien than the familiar Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien is ALWAYS good.
I have this one by the side of my bed because a good friend is a fan of John Piper and recommended this book to me. I haven't made much progress, but it remains by the side of my bed.
I chose to post this today because I LOVE books AND because in my first post I wrote that my blog would probably consist of lots of lists (I like lists), but it turns out it hasn't, so there you have it - a list!

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Mother's (or Teacher's) Curse

There’s something called The Mother’s Curse, which goes like this, “When you grow up, I hope you get children just like you!” This is typically said by a mother when a child is having a temper tantrum in the grocery store.

I don’t think my mom cursed me. I don’t remember ever hearing those words. In fact, I think I’ve been very blessed in terms of my children. Of course, I may find out about things later in life as my parents are finding out about now - at times when their adult children sit around and reminisce!

No, it wasn’t my mom.

I think it was my piano teacher who cursed me.

I love to play pieces on the piano that I know well and that sound beautiful, but I hated practicing. This is really sad to be admitting as a math teacher, but I particularly resisted learning to count. Oh, I know how – I know HOW to count in music (one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-three-ee-and-a . . .). I just never did it. I would ask my teacher to play the new piece for me before I went home so I could hear it. I had a very good ear, and I would piece together the notes I saw with what I’d heard, and I’d basically play by ear.

That made life easy.

That also crippled me.

Now I would like to play the piano really well, and I can play, but I sound just like I did in junior high, and I am limited in that I can only play songs that I’ve heard before and can play partly by ear. (I do plan to rectify this soon and begin lessons again and break my bad habits, which is going to be harder than it would have been to put in the work and do it right the first time around!)

OK, here’s where I lose all my readers, I fear.


(Anybody still with me?)

I was trying with all my heart, soul and guts to impress upon my students how important it is to learn the MEANING rather than a random assortment of rules. Some (though not all) want to say to me, “Just give me the steps; just show me how (and leave me alone).”

We are working with adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers. As I’ve walked around the class over the last few days checking their work, I see that some of them know just enough to be dangerous (kind of like me on the piano). They’ve learned a random assortment of steps but not what they mean or when to apply them.

I am there ready, willing AND ABLE to make sense of this WITH them. I’m basically doing gymnastics and turning myself inside out in front of the class to explain WHY, but I can see in their eyes and body language that they (SOME - not all! - of them) just want to be left alone to stumble through with what they’ve got - hoping that a random guess, like a roll of the die, is going to miraculously be correct (and possibly fearing that digging deeper will make it more confusing instead of less - I understand that).

I DO understand that math is something that many people fear more than public speaking, snakes or death. I DO understand the aversion. I just wish I could have gotten them sooner before they got enough tricks to feel they can (should?) tune out now and hang onto the patchwork they've got and be OK.

The thing is, this is college, and they are in my class because they have a goal, whether it is graduation, transfer, a specific vocation . . . by their own choice of direction in life at this point they HAVE TO get through not only this class but 2 or 3 succeeding math classes that all BUILD on THIS material before they can get to their goal, and I want to help them reach those goals! BUT I can't want it FOR them and make it happen any more than my parents could want piano skills FOR me and make it happen.

Today I shared with them my story of piano lessons (and 2 other similar stories). I'm not a teacher who tells personal stories in class, so this was WAY out the ordinary. I shared that learning STEPS is easy, but steps are just as easy to forget as they are to learn. Learning meaning is hard, but once you have it, it stays with you, and you can even apply it to new concepts you hadn’t seen before (just like I would be able to play piano pieces I’d never heard before if I’d taken the right route instead of the easy route as a piano student).

So, now I'm the "adult" saying, "PLEASE believe me. I know what is in front of you." As you can imagine, this is going over as well with SOME of my students now as it did with me 30+ years ago to be told that if I quit taking piano I would regret it later. (I do). I didn’t believe the adults then; what child does?! SOME of my adult students don’t believe me now either – but SOME do. Kudos to them‼ They are going to make it!

(The first time!!)

And now back to me and fixing the error of MY ways:


Friday, October 03, 2008

Notice of Correction

I am told Saturday Evening Post (Part 2) contains an error.
This has now been corrected.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Billboards vs. Trees

"I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all."

-Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

With obvious apologies to Joyce Kilmer