Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Math Lessons.

Last semester, I had the bright idea to take an online math course. As bad as I am at math, this actually seemed (at first) to be an ideal setup for me, due to the fact that it was no longer an automatic grade-diminishing catastrophe every time I failed to pay attention. This is key to my success, as when it comes to not paying attention in a math class, I have always excelled fantastically.

Needless to say, I barely scraped my way through it, and vowed that for my next (and, thank god, final) math course, I would not even consider the notion of trying it online.

Now, quite a bit of my near failure stems from the unavoidable fact that the best thing I can say about math is that I despise it. My inability to absorb any of the presented materials for my online class was not entirely due to my total dismissal of the subject, though. In a cruel twist, the woman in the tutorial videos had the most soothing voice, making it impossible to maintain the level of alertness required to really grasp new concepts. (I say "new" despite the fact that I have been taught these simple algebraic methods dozens of times, and they still manage to slip away from me just before an exam) It was soft and mid-pitched, a little timid, and sounded the way a mother speaks upon entering the room of a gravely ill child. She wrote formulas on her sheet and said, kindly, "Now, for this problem, we'll have to use the method known as Completing the Square," and yet all I ever heard was, "How's your head, honey? Would you like some more soup?"

She also had this incredible face, full of creases and folds, with the most expressive reservation I've ever seen. Her expression never drastically changed, but now and again she would look up and to her left, suddenly communicating a depth of uncomfortable hesitation that was deeply fascinating. What made her suddenly so nervous? How was she able to restrict that look to only her eyes, and yet say so much? Before I knew it, I had missed the entire video while concentrating on how best to render the shadows above her eyelids with a ball point pen.

At least with this new setup, I could, theoretically, restart the video if I missed something. That I have never once actually done this is probably a valid point to be made, but the option was there. I could always go back and try again, but I didn't. No, if I failed to grasp something, or failed to hear it at all, my method was to attempt the homework problems blindly, throwing numbers at the screen until I reached a point where the possibility of my moving on to the next equation was gone. At this point, I would emit mewing sounds for help to Dan, who is patient and good at math, and then he would fix my mistakes, explain what I failed to comprehend before, and the cycle began anew.

Fast forward to the second week of my Statistics class. I am riddled with unseemly desires to goof off and tell the subject of Statistics what it can do to itself.

It turns out that in person, the only way to keep my attention on the task at hand is to approach the entire class like an acting course. I furrow my brow and nod, acting as if I were paying attention. It helps. Pretending I'm being watched and scanned for signs of comprehension by a faceless audience makes my nods and head tilts more forced, but it keeps me from actively doing anything else, like drawing pictures or writing a story. The whole thing is a grotesque vaudevillian display of academic life, but what can I say? Fake it 'till you make it, or something equally overused like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment