Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Circumnavegating the Wall #2: Calculus

By the time I took calculus in high school, I was quite a good math student. I loved calculus and I could not wait to take more math in college. As I mentioned in "Cicumnavegating the Wall" in multivariable calculus I hit a wall and had to drop the course. It just did not make any sense. Consequently I pursued my other great passion, classics, and graduated with a BA. Math was no longer in the direct path to my future.

Being out of school made me realize that while institutions may organize education in order to place their students on particular paths, there is no reason that self-education must follow those same paths. So there was noting barring me from taking more math. As I promised in "New Year, New Possibilities," I registered at my local community college. Realizing that I needed a math refresher (and because of timing commitments) I decided to take Calculus I and I will move up through the math classes from there (they offer three semesters of calculus followed by linear algebra and differential equations). I took a big step and went to my first class today.
Thomson Advantage Books: Calculus: The Classic Edition (with BCA Tutorial and InfoTrac)
The past week, I have been nervous and annoyed about my decision to start the classes. There was no need. Calculus (at least the evening class I am taking) is a decently paced introduction taught by a middle aged man with a thick Indian accent and an efficient, clipped style. The class is entirely lecture, although after every few sentences he asks "is this ok?" which seems to translate to "understand?" and then he moves on without waiting for a reply. If a hand is raised he will eventually call on the person and he seems happy enough to answer genuine questions, but my best guess would be that he has taught this class for many years and simply wants to get the material to the students in the most expedient manner possible.

The students also surprised me. In the discussion before class, I ascertained that most of the students were at the college with the hopes of transferring into the local university. Many were in the class because they want to pursue degrees in engineering. I found them to be engaged with the class and intelligent. Although first impression are often misleading, I believe that these students will probably continue to be good classmates. I was really nervous about fitting in, but a few students asked me questions about the nature of the class during the break so I guess I must have looked like just another student. Luckily I fit the profile of the typical girl in the class (interestingly the class is a 50-50 gender split): skinny jeans, t-shirt, and boots (although I had knee-high instead of the ankle-height boots sported by the rest of the women).

Any of you who read my new year post noticed that I was also supposed to be taking German because it is one of the classes necessary to pursue a more advanced degree in classics. As it turned out, the class was based on conversational German and used a textbook reputed for avoiding tricky things like grammar. As much as it would be nice to be able to talk to people, what I need is academic German, and specifically German for reading. I realized that the money that I would be spending on the class itself could be spent instead on approximately 34 nonfat lattes which, if I could find a coffee shop, could allow me to spend that time more effectively trying to teach myself reading German. So my thought is that I will compare a few different textbooks. At the moment I am leaning toward Jannach's German for Reading Knowledge, which I have put on hold at the local library. If anyone has a recommendation, I would greatly appreciate it.


  1. Sounds exciting, good luck with the class. Clare has to take Latin or German this summer, or she may try to teach herself. Too bad you guys aren't in the same time zone!