Mit Homework Hard

Some professors know your name. A lot of introductory classes are large; my biology class last semester was probably like 350 students, so no, my professor didn't know my name, but smaller classes they certainly get to know you. I really don't think the large classes are a problem because you also have recitation in which your TA gets to know your name, and the TAs are very knowledgeable and helpful as well. The classes are all good, I can't name a favorite or least favorite. Students study a lot, they have quite a bit of fun, but I imagine they study more than a lot of colleges; they have to in order to learn the amount of material expected of them. Students here are competitive, especially the ones who are pre-med, but we all sort of commiserate on tests that didn't go so well, and there's a lot of camaraderie among peers. We're competitive with the unnamed student who scores 100% on that really difficult test, but not so much with our friends who do better than us. I suppose the class I've taken which is the most unique in my experience is a computation and logic seminar I'm in this semester; it's a very different way to see math from a logical standpoint. I've taken math classes, and logic classes before, but I'd never really thought of combining the two. There are opportunities to spend time with professors outside of class; there are often dinners sponsored by different groups where they get professors in and eat with the students. There are also advisers who you can go to, and you get to interact with in a one-on-one setting. The requirements at MIT are all good, everyone here needs a basic knowledge of calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology just to understand how to relate at all to their peers. The humanities requirements are also essential, I believe, in helping us learn how to communicate our knowledge with the outside world. This is a big problem at MIT, at least potentially, because the stereotype would be that we're too intellectual to be able to actually communicate our massively complicated thoughts. The education at MIT is geared towards getting a job, but also learning for its own sake; for the sake of learning we gain knowledge of how to get a job? It's both and the same.

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thekeri said:
And to Laura: update? Please? I'm suffering over Spring Break here?
I know, I have failed you all. Please accept my sincerest apologies. =( So here it is, a long overdue update about everyone's favorite subject- homework!

As I've mentioned before, this semester I'm taking both 18.02 (Multivariable Calculus) and 18.03 (Differential Equations). While technically you don't need any knowledge of 18.02 to understand 18.03- well, taking two math classes at once isn't so easy. I don't know how math majors do it.

***Story time!!!***

Once upon a time, I was really good at math. I was practically a math prodigy back in the day. Like back in preschool and kindergarden, I was adding and subtracting way before all the other kids. No, seriously- I remember one time my mom got really mad at me because my kindergarden teacher wanted to talk to her, and she assumed it meant I wasn't sharing my Play-Doh. But it turns out that she just wanted to talk to my mom about putting me in a gifted program because of my awesome addition skills. (Kindergarden, remember?)

As I got older, I still loved math, and so did my dad. He works in construction, and spends most of his time framing houses. He used to come home from work and give me actual problems he faced that day to test my geometry skills. Sometimes he would teach me geometry tricks, and sometimes I would actually help him figure out how long he needed to cut a certain piece of lumber. One of my favorite elementary school teachers, Mrs. Condon, loved math too. I remember going to this "Family Math Night" event she held- my parents and I tried to solve tricky math problems. I think I even volunteered to help out the following year. (You know how it is, when you're in fifth grade you think you own the elementary school.)

Then somehow, my love for math kind of changed. Not into hatred exactly, but maybe apprehension. I guess it had something to do with math teachers and classes, neither of which are actually related to math itself. Or maybe it was because there were more letters and less numbers.

I'm not sure exactly what happened, but the bottom line is that now math kind of freaks me out a little bit. Which is sad, because I know I still enjoy it somewhere deep down. The best way to describe to you the way I feel about math now is through my AP classes: Senior year I took AP Physics C (calc-based) and AP Calc AB. This might sound like a good idea, but its not. Not knowing the calc ahead of time was a pretty big deal. The first day of calc was spent reveiwing the slope of a line. (Did you ever notice how every math class ever starts out with a review of this concept? I personally feel like it's getting kinda old. OK- rise over run. delta y / delta x. Understood. Let's move on please.) The first day of physics was spent reveiwing derivatives. You might think it's kind of hard to review things you've never even heard of before, and you'd be right. We were fully engrossed in Electricity and Magnetism before my calc teacher ever used the integral symbol. Clearly, this was not ideal. My study/support group (all 6 of the girls in the 20 person class, none of us had the proper math background...another story for another day) learned the math as we went along. I got straight A's, double 5's on the AP (Physics C is actually two tests: Mechanics and E&M), tested out of 8.01, and am having no problems understanding a thing in 8.02. On the other hand, I did not-so-well in calc and got a 3 on the AP Calc AB test. So basically, I blundered my way through double integrals in physics (which, by the way, I didn't receive official intstruction on until about 3 weeks ago) to get straight A's, but despised every minute of AP Calc.

Give me a math problem disguised in the real world, and I'll happily spend hours getting it wrong as I work my way towards the answer, working out how to compute integrals on my own or creating new methods of computation as I go. Ask me to do math for math's sake, or to do an MIT Mathematics pset, and that's when all hell breaks loose.

Like the first week of this semester, for example. Or hey, the week after that, too. You know, right on up until now, and next week, and all the weeks after that. I remember being rather miserable during the first week this semester. It was 2 straight days of too much math, and not enough sleep. I knew this because when describing my week to a friend I said, "The ratio of hours I spent doing math to hours I spent sleeping is far too high." Now that we're nearing the end of the term, I guess the shock of the sheer amount of time I spend on math has worn off, at least.

Math psets are hard, and they are long. They take a lot of knowledge, and a lot of skill, and a lot of time, and a certain amount of mental dexterity. And if you're like me, they require a lot of patience and determination. Especially when you have 2 a week.

As I said, technically no knowledge of 18.02 is required for 18.03. But at the same time, it's easy to feel way less prepared. Just the fact that most people in the class have already learned multivariable calc (even if they won't use it) is a little intimidating. Like they're all just plain better at math than me. I kind of feel like the dumb one who's in over her head.

For example, my 18.03 TA...seems a little concerned about me. After he hands out that day's practice problem, he checks in on me every few minutes, making noises of surprise when I actually write down anything relevant on the page. This, as you can imagine, is a little upsetting.

Here is what one of our 18.03 psets looked like: http://www-math.mit.edu/18.03/spr06/psets/ps2.pdf. See, when it says, "Solve x' + 2x = cos(2t) by replacing it with a complex valued equation, solving that, and then extracting the real part," or "Find the real and imaginary part, and the modulus and argument of e1+(π/3)i," or "Write down the constant coefficient homogeneous linear differential equation with characteristic polynomial p(s)= s3 - s," well, it's not the same thing as the time my kindergarden teacher handed out 100 snacks on the 100th day of school (10 Skittles and 10 M&Ms and 10 pretzels...) and asked me, "If you eat all of your M&Ms and 3 of your Skittles, how many snacks do you have left?"

Here's the point I'm getting towards: this story doesn't end with "and then I suddenly magically understood all of the mathematical mysteries of the universe, aced both classes, and decided to major in Course 18." This story ends (well, it hasn't really ended yet, but for now) with:

Math is hard. I'm still sad that I've lost my old love for it, and really need to study for my 18.02 exam on Thursday because I'm honestly not satisfied with my grade in the class.

Sometimes I think I got into MIT because I took a lot of leaps in high school. But that doesn't mean I'm not afraid to take risks. Sometimes those leaps I took were pretty awesome. And sometimes I landed flat on my face. But they were all at least a little bit scary.

Confusingly profound statement of the day: Success is all about failure. You'll take risks, and it'll be scary, and sometimes you'll fail. Or even (gasp) be mediocre. And that's ok. No really. It is. Promise.

Responses to Comments:
Mal wrote:
Is the Lego Lab open to the general public? Are there other things to do on campus that are open to kids? Thanks.
Hmm. Well, I'm almost sure there's a tour of the Media Lab (which is the larger lab which includes the Lego Lab) that's supposed to be really awesome, but I'm not sure how one would be able to take such a tour. Maybe one of the other bloggers knows? Other than that, I can't think of much open to kids specifically. If you're visiting campus, stop by the Admissions Reception Center in building 10 (that's the one with the big dome); they can give you a pamphlet with suggestions of fun things to see and do on campus. Oh, and now that I think about it, the MIT museum, located on Mass Ave, is one of the coolest places ever (no seriously, I love that place), and very kid-friendly. Admission is pretty cheap too- only $2 for kids, $5 for adults, and free for MIT ID card holders.

Now here's the great thing about being a blogger.
Awww. Laura, I less than 3 you!
Posted by: The Girl Sitting Across the Room From You and Is "Stalking" You
I have no idea who this is. April denies it. Maybe Adelaide? I don't know....I just...what the hell?

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