Why Math Matters

Yesterday I had an interesting discussion with a former student about math. That’s right: math.

The Women’s Studies department I teach in has a sort of open adjunct/student lounge with computers and a small library and a table and such — a place to hang out and get a little work done or chat online or whatever. This student was working on some algebra, and was clearly frustrated. She turns to me and says, “Why do we have to learn this stuff?! When am I ever going to need to know about imaginary numbers?”

Two things you should know about me. First, I started my academic career as an engineering major — aerospace, to be precise. While I quickly bailed out of engineering, I have a great respect for the applied sciences, and the sciences in general. [Continue reading]




New E-book:

Learn More, Study Less by Scott Young>My friend, <a href=Scott Young, who I interviewed on Lifehack Live back in January, sent me a copy of his new e-book called Learn More, Study Less. In our interview, he describes his notion of “lifelong learning” (which he says is a misnomer — “if learning isn’t life long, what is it?”) which makes up the subject of his new book.

Best Practice for Students: Ideas vs. Formatting in Essays

Every semester, I spend a lot of time explaining the term paper assignments to students. I talk about them when I hand out my syllabus, I spend a good half-hour discussing the assignment about 3 weeks into the course, and I revisit the topic several times up until the last week before the due date.

Every time I bring it up, I ask if students have any questions. The questions I get are always about teh same damn thing: formatting. “Does it have to be typed?” “What size margins should I use?” “What style do you want the references in?”

I can only imagine that other professors and/or high school teachers hammer students over formatting, without paying much attention to their ideas — which are, ostensibly, what we assign papers to help students get at and express.

Why All the Capitalization Lately?

I read a lot of other people’s writing, in both my role as a teacher, grading papers students hand in, and as an editor at lifehack.org, preparing contributors’ work for publication on the site. Lately, I’ve been noticing a strange phonemenon: the gratuitous Capitalization of random Words.

It’s as if suddenly we’ve returned to the days of Pilgrim’s Progress, where Words are capitalized to show that they represent Important Concepts — except the words That are capitalized are often not All that important. Or it’s like we suddenly adopted German Grammar, where all the Nouns are capitalized — except it’s not Just nouns. In fact, I’ve searched in vain for a pattern, and can’t find one.

Summertime, When the Teaching is Easy…

Well, maybe not “easy”, per se, unless by “easy” you mean “really, really hard”.

This week was the first week of the summer session of my women’s studies class, “Gender, Race, and Class”. While I’ve taught about a half-dozen summer sessions of anthropology at the community college, this is my first summer session at the university and my first in women’s studies. Summer classes are a ton of work — class prep every day, unmotivated students, only a couple weeks between intros and mid-terms, and then again between mid-terms and finals. They tend to be breathless, jus-in-time affairs.

Best Practices for Students #2: Know Your Software

Learning is a craft, a set of skills that you put to use over the course of your life to construct your education. Like any craft, your mastery of the tools at your disposal is crucial. One of the most overlooked tools in the learner’s toolbox is your computer and its software. Your instructors have probably spent a lot of time teaching you how to use books and the research library, maybe how to glean information from the Web, and definitely how to use language to put forth and defend an argument, but how much time have you or your professors spent on how to use your computer?