Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chi Squared my arse!

I tried to take a statistics class last semester and unfortunately, my first exam results weren’t so hot, so I ultimately had to drop the class. I literally had bad dreams about that class. My calculator and I couldn’t get along to save my life. There simply wasn’t enough time to put into the class. I had a rather good teacher, but he wasn’t one to let you have any helpful study aids for exams. Math, you see, has never been my friend. It has been my foe for decades. My first math teachers in elementary school made sure I memorized my math facts, but for some reason, I could never solve for “x”. Moreover, I never knew why it was so darn important for me to learn to solve for “x”, where to put it while I was solving for it, and why I had to put other stuff on both sides of the problems, in an attempt to solve for it. Moreover, it made little sense where or how in the real world I would ever need to do to one side what I was doing to the other in any situation I found myself in…you see my dilemma. It never made sense to me.

When I ventured into the mysterious world of general and organic chemistry a couple years ago for nursing, I had to learn dimensional analysis all over again. The rusty wheels in my brain started to churn and with a little oil from the tutors, the light started to illuminate in my head. Things convert to other things for a reason. This would be important in pharmacology and the procedures we would be implementing in nursing. It was essential to overcome my phobia, once and for all. My math switches being rusty, however, I had to make them operational. My future career as a nurse depends on it. Enter Mr. Hild (pronounced like Wild).
A couple of the nursing programs in the valley require that I have statistics, so with my trusty fifteen dollar calculator by my side and my pal, Trudy; we drove to Rocklin 3-days-per week for 7-weeks. There we met Mr. Hild for the first time. Mr. Hild teaches high school mathematics at Colfax High School and has been teaching at Sierra College for the last two decades. He managed to take this very old phobic math student and turn her into a statistics student. With an approach to teaching from a worksheet and practice method, we were able to drill ourselves through chapter problems, rather than use a textbook. Trudy and I would do the problems repeatedly until we had a good handle on each one. When it came time to take the exams, we were allowed to use our formula sheets and make notes to help us complete the tests. If one practiced as he suggested, one was essentially set up for success on the exams.

Chi squared problems, Poisson distributions, ANOVA problems, binomial probabilities…yeah, I know that stuff now and can solve not only for “x”, but I can find the mean, median, mode and standard deviation of a bunch of numbers. I can draw a bell curve in my sleep and no more bad dreams.

Teaching is about showing your students the map, giving them tools to unlock learning and giving pupils what they need to be successful. Ultimately, when a teacher can unlock the doors and turn on switches, then that teacher has created a learning environment where a student can be successful and overcome obstacles in learning. For the first time in 40 years, I enjoyed a math class and obtained grades I never thought possible. Mr. Hild, you opened rusty doors in an old brain that was closed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It finally makes sense. Thanks a bunch!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Years may come...

Son, tomorrow you graduate from the 8th grade. In about ten weeks you start high school. I know it’s not much of a summer vacation, but there is a lot to do before you go to high school. But first, a few words of advice from your old mom. What lies ahead Son, are primarily choices. It’s now up to you.

Many years ago, as I walked at my eighth grade ceremony at St. Vincent elementary school, I remember getting excited toward the end of the Mass, because Mr. Jarrett had taught us to sing an Irish Rovers song “Years May Come” and we were to perform this in musical rounds for our parents. I thought it was such a hip song. Yeah I was pretty much a dorky kid. A lot about elementary and middle school was learning the nuances of how to get along with others. My middle school years were the hardest years of my life. It was a relief to get out of grammar school. You, however, went from homeschooling to public school and made a success of all the changes you had to make to adapt to new learning environments. You made it all look so easy.
Your fun loving nature, kindness and compassion towards others will be the recipe you need for success in high school. Don’t lose that good nature. Peers can help you be a better person or they can break you down. Choose good friends. Be a good friend.

Years may come where you have to make hard choices. You know this will be the greatest challenge in high school. Map a good path from the start. It will be an easier journey. Be a good example to others by being a person who is a friend to all. Choose the road less traveled.

Don’t let others define who you are. Everything you are right now will suffice. Let these next four years be about working hard and ‘making good’ on the fine goals you’ve set for yourself. Let music and sports be about contribution and teamwork. Don’t succumb to the pressures to be like everyone else, especially when you know that something is wrong. There is so much time for everything that will be put on your plate. Remember the virtue of patience. Choose to persevere.

Embedded in my memories of your growing up are the birthday interviews we did on videotape, the insane laughter you bring to carpooling and the inability I have to stay angry with you very long. Your volunteer days, the times you served others, most especially those Sundays you served Mass; these are the treasures you’ve given to others. Like your sisters, you care for your friends deeply. Don’t be too devastated when you are let down. Remember that forgiveness heals most things. Choose your battles and let go of the rest. It’s such a waste of time. Integrity will always win over popularity

As you venture into the exciting world of high school, remember to honor yourself by respecting your teachers and coaches. Remember that we’re always here for you. Work hard and have fun. Congratulations on all your accomplishments. And like that old Irish Rovers song, “ Years may come and years may go…
for each one…Thank the Lord that we have been...together through the years..”

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com