Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tornadoes, sperm, and bloomin' love...

Class registration is complete. Dr. Davis reminds me of a younger, but arguably just as cranky Dr. Mann. I survived, though. Thoughts on our morning meeting:

1) Only in Math can a professor ask you something like "Are you Pure?" at the beginning of a conversation and not get in trouble for sexual harrassment.
2) He penciled in some classes on my tentative schedule for the first couple of years, including algebraic topology. He is, interestingly enough, an Algebraic Topologist.
3) I was thrilled to learn that the algebra book required is Dummit and Foote, which I already own, but bitterly disappointed to discover that the third edition is required, while I possess merely the Second. Trying to use the old edition would lead to Frustration over mismatched pages and missing problems (I know; I've tried it before). I can buy the new edition, but I can't sell the old one as the new one is out now and everyone will want that, and what good will it do me to own different editions of the same book? Sigh. It's just one of those things.
4) There are supposedly 4 other students starting the program with me: 3 guys, and an unknown person who wasn't on the list. [Dr. Davis said vaguely, "there will probably be one more."] I'm still trying to figure out: will I make friends with my fellow students next year? Do all my work in my office and talk to everyone all day...? Or show up for class 3 days a week and spend the rest of the time at home? (Classes are 9:10, 10:10, and 1:10, MWF. Pretty cushy, huh?)

********************Truncated Spacer Bar for Nate
I tutored Chrissy at the library today and returned the 6 books that I didn't read in the six weeks that I had them. (They were 3 about math, 3 about music. I read part of The Millenium Problems- the part that interested me- and the first couple of pages of the book about e. Pretty pathetic. Once in a while I worry about all those poor Aspiring Kids at the library who were depreived of those 6 books for the 6 weeks that I had them, Not Reading them. Oh well.) Anyway, today I got two new books: "The Education Gospel" by Grubb and Lazerson, which is subtitled, "The Economic Power of Schooling" [if that helps to explain its content to you]; and, "The Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature" [which I will definitely not read all of, but will hopefully read at least one page of.] Somebody ask me next week how I'm liking these books...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Truncated for my Darlin'

Overheard at Tally Ho tonight, by a person drinking beer:

"Hurricaines have names, but tornadoes don't. It's like... children have names, but sperm don't." The frightening thing? This seemed to be accepted as a logical explanation by all the others at the table drinking beer. [At one point, someone suggested Funnelina as a possible tornado name.]

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Truncated for the Llove of my life

Nate brought me flowers tonight. :-)

Tuesday (and other disappointingly pedestrian nomenclatures of paradigmactically vivisectioned Prose)

Thought One

I exercised today. I lifted weights, did sit-ups, and walked [fast] for about 50 minutes. It's so cute because I always have a simply HORRID time talking myself INTO exercising... you know, I have to go down the stairs, and find my locker, and change clothes, bother bother bother... and I always tell myself, just 3o minutes or so... and I feel Tired during most of that time... and then, after around 30 minutes, the endorphins (sp?) start to kick in, and then I can't pull myself OFF the stupid thing. And then I figure, if I've gone through all that trouble to change clothes etc, I might as well make it a good long workout, so just keep going.

And listening to U2 gives me goosebumps. "Where the Streets Have No Name" makes me want to find an in[de]finitely long stretch of road, somewhere in Utah perhaps, and drive about 120 mph with the windows and roof rolled down. It also makes me want to Run, but I don't do that on treadmills indoors with all the Workout boys and girls staring at my jiggling, tye-dyed flesh. I think I have Walter Mitty visions while exercising. Must be some pretty powerful Endorphins.

So the treadmill said I walked 3.14 miles (some of it was on an incline! hoorah! but that made my ankles hurt.) Did I walk in a Circle?

Thought Two

The power hasn't gone off since last Wednesday. For which I am Very Thankful. Praise and Worship. Let's leave it at that.

Thought Two and a Half

This week I can register for classes at Lehigh. Tomorrow I will go and talk to Dr. Davis at 8:30. [Brb. It's time for my 10 pm cup of coffee, which I will Drink despite [or because of?] the fact that it will completely prevent Sleep.] I am planning to take:

Math 301, Principles of Real Analysis
Math 309, Theory of Probability
Math 327, Groups and Rings

I was going to take 450, Topics in Graph Theory, instead of 327, but Dr. Davis informed me in a grammatically substandard email that Graph Theory is an Advanced Class that I would not be prepared for if I hadn't already had a lot of graph theory. Which, arguably, I HAVE [had a lot of graph theory], but I've been somewhat persuaded by his argument that I should go ahead with the algebra anyway.

Now, the trick will be: persuading Dr. Davis that I really DO need undergraduate R Anal, whether or NOT they've awarded me their little la-dee-dah fellowship. How do I say, tactfully but bluntly, I really don't know Squat past Calculus and Diff Eq? Perhaps they'll figure that out on their own in the fall, when I get there and open my mouth. Also, I need to find out which classes are offered every other year, and find a way to take the classes I want even though I'm only planning to stay two years but they think I'll be there much longer.


Thought Five

I tutored a new kid today, and completely forgot to ask her to pay me. Oh well, maybe next time.

Phonathon found us for the first time, ever! tonight. A little girl named Laura Dunn. So I was all hyper-friendly and encouraging, and told her about 7 times, "go ahead and read your Script, honey, I worked phonathon too, so I know how hard it is..." And I warned her towards the end, Beware the old ladies! They'll talk your ear off.

Then I realized- I've already become one of them.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Last Post was like Run Lola Run because...

1) It had three sections, just like her three running episodes.
2) There was a plane flying overhead Something Random- in RLR, a red phone. In my blog, tortillas. The plane flying represents transition to the next phase.
3) There is a Random Old Man- the bank guard, no doubt?- who repeats something deja-vu-like. Repeats it, but not identically. A Wrinkle In The Matrix.
4) I arrived at Lehigh between 4 and 5, when time was almost up. 4 times 5 is 20. Culminating in 200 A&S students out of 2000 total.
5) And the lady reminded me that I'd won the jackpot (in three stages). $20,000 a year!!!

YES!!!!!!! And YES, and YES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love, Neb

Thursday, April 21, 2005


I went to Aldi yesterday morning. Just as I finished unloading my groceries into the trunk, an old man pulled into the space next to me, rolled down the window, and said, "I'll take your shopping cart."

I waited as he got out and found the requisite quarter. The quarter-cart swap made, I was going to leave when he said (in a loud, booming, cheerful voice), "I just spent two hours over at the gas station talking to my buddy."

Uncertain as to the appropriate response to this, I nodded and said something at least as profound as, "That's nice."

And then, in the charming habit of old people and small children, assuming that one of us was likely deaf so that every statement must be repeated twice to be certain of being heard: "I was over at the gas station talking to my friend for two hours. I do that now- go talk to him, then come here to get groceries."

And then I left.

J.D. Salinger could have written something about this, right? He wrote about children, but old men are really the same thing, in disguise.

I didn't have time to take all the groceries in from the car. Always late to work. But then I realized the tortillas might not survive the heat of the day in the trunk. So I stuck them in my backpack so as to take them inside to work. I mentioned something about the tortillas.

Nate said, "I want one."
Neb: "What, a tortilla?"
Nate: "No, a Lear Jet." (One was flying overhead.)

I dropped off my paperwork at Lehigh Tuesday afternoon. Arriving at campus right around 4:45, I parked and didn't put a coin in the meter, dashed over to the Graduate Programs Office, uncertain if they closed at 4 or 5.

Just as I got there, three ladies were walking out of the office and said "We're locking up." I asked if I could just drop off the papers I had, so one of the nice secretary-type ladies took them. "Oh," she said, "You're Nancy! I remember that we sent you a series of letters: admission, then the TA, then the Fellowship. Congratulations on getting that!"

And I said, Thank-you, and wondered how she remembered me out of the Sea of Grad School Applicants...? How many grad students ARE at this school, anyway? (I just checked. A little over 2000, total, for the University, which means this lady dealt with... maybe 200 admitted students? She's Arts and Sciences only.)

I didn't get a parking ticket.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I hate ALL the children... Part II

This one isn't the children's fault, though. It's the Grown-ups responsible for teaching them.

The latest disaster? An abomination known as Project-Based Algebra.

So, I was tutoring Elizabeth the other day, a gigly 18-year-old erstwhile homeschooler. (Was that a correct usage of erstwhile? One must wonder). She shows me the questions in her book. A parabola has been drawn three times, in part a, part b, part c of the first problem. The SAME parabola, mind you. In the first picture, there are no numbers on the graph. In the second picture, the x- and y-intercepts are labeled. In the third picture, we are on a grid with labels, so that any specific point's coordinates can be determined.

The instructions? Find out as much as you can about the equation of the parabola, such as intercepts, concavity, and the values of a, b, and c. [I think there was something else, too, but I've forgotten.] Elizabeth had no idea what to do. So, I did with her what I always do: "Let's flip back and see what this section explained to you." So we flip back and discover what I always fear: THERE REALLY ARE NO EXPLANATIONS OF ANYTHING!! You see, the whole philosophy behind this stuff is that students are meant to Discover things on their own. Now, as a tutor, that puts me in somewhat of a quandary; for I have been told oftentime, it's not my job to TEACH the student material, only to reinforce and clarify what they've already learned.

But she hasn't learned anything yet!?!

I try to stick to specifics. They said something about "concavity," right? Surely they MUST have mentioned something about that in the book. It's not in the section we're on now, so I suggest using the index to find it. One little problem: the book is not numbered with consecutive pages that begin at the Beginning (1) and end at the End (598); rather, each "Module" (=chapter?) has its own numbering system (beginning at 1), index, and answer key.

Why? WHY???

Have you ever tried to FIND anything in a book like this? A LOT of flipping is involved. Instead of saying I'm on page 258 and just turning to page 258, you have to say "I'm on page 5, Module 11" and patiently flip your way to Module 11 first. If the index says concavity is on page 34, you have to make sure you're on the RIGHT page 34 and haven't overshot the proper section.


So, Elizabeth is not particularly gifted at math, and the whole thing of determining a, b, and c was somewhat beyond her. In hindsight I probably should have asked if she had any class notes, to see if her Teacher had managed to impart any Knowledge during class, but I guess I still tenaciously cling to the idea that a Book should contain Knowledge sufficient to do the Problems it asks.

Am I asking too much here?

Anyway, you, Gentle Reader, have plowed patiently through my complaints long enough. It's time for the punch line.

After whirling into Sharon's office in a fit of wrath and despair and unloading my burdens on her, she administratively Soothed me and sent me back out into the World. But I was not soothed. Indeed, I decided it was time for a little Arts and Crafts therapy.

I stole the scissors from the secretary's desk and got some blank paper, cut out a Paper Doll, wrote, "Students who cheat," "Administrators who don't care," and "Project-based math," on it, and-- you guessed it-- had a little too much fun with some very sharp push pins for awhile. Better yet, Sharon's helpful suggestion had been that we edit the Student Contract to contain something more specific about cheating, so I pinned the doll to the back of a Student Contract and showed it to Sharon.

"HERE, do you think THIS would get through to them?!?!?"

Nate is worried they'll let me go before summer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I hate ALL the children...

...that I tutor.

Allright, that's a gross exaggeration. I don't hate them all. I just wanted to wring a few necks today.

You see, the biggest problem that I have in community college is the issue of academic honesty- i.e., students asking for help on assignments that are like take-home tests, meant to be worked without help as a true revelation of the student's knowledge. (To the extent that things like "knowledge" are truly valued in the modern Academy- but more about that later.)

So, here's where we stand. Community college instructors, pressured by students who complain that they are unduly nervous during timed, in-class tests, are increasingly giving take-home tests, quizzes, and assignments, with varying degrees of clarity as to the extent of collaboration that is allowed. The Learning Center instructs its tutors that we are allowed to help with any problems that are in the textbook; we're [obviously] not allowed to help with anything that an instructor brings in and says "this is a graded thing that they aren't allowed to get any help with." We tutors love it when the instructors do that; then, if a mildly sneaky student does something like copy the problems on a sheet of notebook paper and ever-so-innocently ask questions about them, we can point to where we have the test posted and say "[Ha ha ha! Busted!] We're sorry, but you're not allowed to get help with those questions."

Now, the problem arises with everything in-between; that is, students come in with a variety of problems, typed and hand-written, that are apparently not in their textbook, but aren't on something we've been directly notified about by instructors. If questioned, these students invariably say "these are just extra problems the teacher put on the board for us to work on" or "these are review problems for our test coming up" or something of the like. How do we know if they're telling the truth or not? Obviously, we don't. But it seems difficult to make a clear-cut policy on these cases.

One idea, the one we sort-of kind-of more-or-less follow now, is that the burden lies on the instructor to bring a copy of any off-limits questions into the tutoring center so that we know we shouldn't help with those questions. In other words, everything else is fair game. This would work great except that there are so many instructors, many of them little part-time adjuncts, who barely seem to know The Learning Center exists. Let's put it this way- we have exactly two assignments posted on our Do-Not-Help list at the moment, but I can guarantee you there are more outstanding assignments than that floating around. For example, a student today asked me questions about problems on a sheet that was labeled "Quiz 4." A take-home quiz? Was she allowed to get help from other students in the class, from tutors, or from no one? We don't know, because the instructor didn't notify us of anything and there weren't even instructions printed at the top. Instructors frequently won't even bother to print any guidelines on the things: even things like "you may work with one other student in your class" or "you may use your book, but not any human help" or "you may get help with these problems but the final write-up must be your own" would help to clarify the issue. But we know nothing.

On the other end of the spectrum, we could play it safe and say "we're only going to help you do problems out of the book." The problem with this is that there are many legitimate questions students could ask that aren't in the book; i.e., examples the teacher has done in class that they don't understand, or problems on a handout from class. So this would probably frustrate the students and be too restrictive. We want our students to get ENOUGH help, just not too much.

Then there are the "compromise" suggestions, which have been employed or suggested at various times by various tutors. One mantra is: "If you suspect the questions are from a test, just work SIMILAR problems." This idea has a number of problems associated with it. If you have something like a word problem and you just go through and change the numbers, then give the student as much guidance as necessary for them to get through it, you've really given them quite a lot of help, and all but the most incompetent among them will be able to work the test(?) problem with the proper numbers filled in, without having really gained the solution Knowledge themselves. (i.e., afterwards give them a different problem of similar difficulty, and they still won't be able to do it.) If you do more than just change the numbers, so that the actual set-up is different, they likely won't be able to do their test problem and will start asking you little questions about the similarities and differences, which you'll then be Stressed Out trying to decide whether or not to answer. Another proverb we sometimes quote: "Give limited help or hints, but try to make them figure it out on their own." This, too, is really no good: it lacks uniformity. And uniformity is another big problem we have: as different tutors interpret and apply the principles differently, students notice that some tutors are "softer on crime" than others, and launch Complaints against the more scrupulous amongst us.

All very Bad and Confusing.

So, as it stands now, our policy isn't clear and there is inconsistency amongst us tutors. By this point in this dull little narrative, you, gentle Reader, may be asking, DOES this matter?!? And I answer, YES! Yes it does! You see, the meta-Problem in this situation is not that there is unclarity in our policy- it's the reason behind the lack of clarity. The reason is that community colleges (at least the two I work for, anyway) DO NOT TAKE ACADEMIC HONESTY SERIOUSLY.

Let's compare and contrast for a minute. Take Rice U, for example, where I took classes in high school. Rice has an "Honor Code" system, in which a lot of trust is placed in students regarding things like take-home tests; i.e., you are on your honor to not cheat, or peek, or help each other. But this system is supported by very, very serious consequences and penalties for those who do [even attempt to] cheat. If you are caught trying to cheat at Rice, even on a little thing, there is a Hearing before the Honor Council, and a severe penalty, up to receiving an F in the class and a two semester suspension. At Lehigh, Nate is required to report cases of suspected cheating to the Dean. How about Northampton? In the Learning Center, when we catch a student cheating or trying to cheat, the worst that happens is that we tell the student, "No, we won't help you with that." There is no penalty. There is no guarantee that the student will even receive a grade of zero on the assignment; in extreme cases our supervisor, Lifen, might report the incident to the instructor, but even then, I've never heard of a student getting kicked out of school because of it. I told Sharon today- I think if a student tries to cheat, we should deny them tutoring for the rest of the semester. The fact that community college is not a Bastion of Academic Excellence like some of the big four year schools is no reason to be soft on cheating. Inferiority need not begot dishonesty!

But no one seems to care.

What has prompted my little harangue? Three students in the last two tutoring days who have shown up with questions that I was pretty sure were from tests. I helped them, not having any proof that they were from a test; but I feel guilty. One of the students today was pretty clueless, and got a LOT of help, bringing her test(?) grade up from (probably) an F to (probably) an A, as we helped her on every single problem just about. I wrote Lifen a note about it.

Do you all realize? This is how students Slip Through the System and end up in Calculus I unable to add fractions. :-(

Then again, I [marginally legally] copied code all the way through C++ at Wheaton. So who am I to speak?

Name that Problem...

*Lack of interest in what once would have been interesting
*Difficulty concentrating
*Slowed thought processes, decreased activity
*Desire to sleep all the time
*Decreased desire for sex

Oh, that's interesting. This was going to be a post about "See, I'm getting depressed again," but now that I look at my Problems in the cold hard light of the posting box, I note what's missing: feelings of hopelessness, self-hatred, desires to die. Those aren't there!

All the symptoms that are there are just Thyroid symptoms. Very interesting.

Peter says I should try to write about something other than my gout, rickets, dementia, and scurvy (oh, yeah, and my hypochondria). And I know that. I know I should be writing engaging, rise-above-the-rest prose. That's the whole reason I started a blog [I guess]. To write Nice Things. They just aren't presenting themselves much yet. See "loss of interest in the rest of the world" above.

Are we off to a bad start? I don't know and I don't really care.


PS It's not as bad as all that, really. I'm going to the grocery store.

The Silver Chair

I just finished [re]reading The Silver Chair, on the patio, in the twilight; a very peaceful way to relax at the end of the day. And as I make my way through the series once again, I find that these books really were written for adults- not that children aren't meant to read them, but that adults are the only ones who have really lived long enough to know just how sweet they are. When I was a kid I found myself crying at the end of The Last Battle. Now I want to cry at the end of each story, because I can feel and experience so much more of it now than I could when I was a kid. I went to Wheaton and met Chris Long, and learned how to Frolic and Play and Read stories that really are in another time and place altogether, but closer to the truth of our lives than the things we read in our newspapers and magazines. I learned who Lewis was, and read Surprised by Joy, and came to understand his love of mythology in an isomorphic kind of way. I understand now why all the little details are filled into the books- the details I thought rather extraneous when I was younger. All those details take what would otherwise be a nice, moving Fantasy epic and turn it, quite literally, into something Extraordinary.

Then, of course- there's Aslan. :-)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

What would happen?

What would happen...?

If I just wrote about everything on my mind here? Didn't hold anything back? No reservations at all? Just let everyone come and read it, without any restrictions or secrets?

How bad could it be? Really~

Friday, April 08, 2005

Here I am. Posted by Hello