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Back to School

June 25th, 2009

This semester, I am taking Intermediate Algebra. True, I passed it about 20 years ago–I think I got a “B” in the class–but I remembered nothing at all from the class so long ago. Nowadays, I am a teacher at a college myself; I teach a survey course in Computers along with a few Writing courses here at our branch campus in Japan. But I want to extend my computer science credentials, and learn programming.

Now, for a long time, we were kind of cut off from the home campus in some ways, but in the past few years a lot more connections have been made. Recently, they made us part of the program where we can take courses with no tuition–a courtesy extended to full-time faculty. Being in Japan, the commute is a bit tough, but the college has an extensive range of online classes. So this semester, I decided to take Intermediate Algebra. Technically, I probably didn’t have to; my passing grade from years back might have sufficed. But it’s a pre-requisite for the programming courses, and I wanted to actually know the stuff I’ll be needing. So here I am.

This is the first time I have ever taken an online course; it’s not too bad. The main activity at home is to read through the text and try to understand; the main online activity is to take part in the discussion group, like a forum or bulletin board, but limited to class members discussing problems. We have to post at least three messages a week: one question, one answer, and one other post which could be either.

And, we just had our first test. The score just came back–100%. Woo hoo! Since my participation grade is also 100% so far, it’s going swimmingly.

As for the subject matter, I have always had a Math phobia. Strangely, I am not bad at all with numbers–I just get nervous around anything more than basic math. And I honestly cannot say that “it’s all coming back to me”; I don’t remember any of this from when I took it before. But I’m getting it.

It helps to have been a teacher: I know what makes for a good student. One important point is to not just read the text carefully, but to take careful notes on your reading. It’s too easy to read without really understanding, but if you summarize what you’re reading, you are forced to comprehend what you summarize, not to mention that it helps you to memorize things as well.

The same goes for discussion: when others have problems, jump in and try to help. I have found through experience that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I learned this as a college student, when I joined study groups where all the other members were non-native speakers, so I was constantly explaining to others; the lesson was reinforced as a teacher, where I found myself picking up new subjects required by my teaching much faster than I would have as a student. The basic idea is that if you explain something to others, it forces you to organize the facts and simplify things. If you don’t understand it yourself, you can’t teach it, and so you really have no choice but to get it straight and then spell it out.

There is, perhaps, another reason to do well: it would be kind of embarrassing to not do well in a class as a student while I am also teaching students in a class of my own. So I’ve gotta keep things up–midterms coming up….

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