18 April 2011

the epiphany

Brace yourself. Prepare for your mind to be blown. Today is another one of those days. One of those "Aha!" days. Actually it wasn't that spontaneous. It was a gradual coming-to-terms sort of thing. So we all know I'm never going to major in math or become a mathematician. We actually know that math has never been my friend. But since I need to do well, I am seeing a math tutor at a great little place that specializes in math. I go a couple times a week. We work on algebra and other things and homework from class. I wouldn't call it fun, but it's not as bad as I imagined it would be. I never feel frustrated there. So this morning I woke up an hour later than usual, giving me 25 minutes before school started. I would obviously be late. And then my cat decided to jump into the sink and eat the syrup from my sister's waffles and he got it all over himself and the floor. So we had to give him a bath before school. And this made me even more late. So when I got to class, we were just starting this thing on an LCD projector. It was this 3-dimensional graph thing that had an x-axis, a y-axis, and a z-axis. What's a z-axis? Where did this absurdness come from? So my teacher said that instead of ordered pairs, there are ordered triples, like instead of (0,5) it would be something like (0,5,8). I know. Mind blown. So then comes the actual graphing procedure. We plot the points and then we draw the box. Can I elaborate? No. That's because that is all we were told. "How do we know where to draw the box?" The answer: you just draw it. Now isn't that a great answer. We all looked at each other with the same utterly perplexed expression which said "what is he doing" and "I give up" all in one look. We all just decided this was ridiculous and with that, the bell rang and we left. A very efficient class, I must say. So today I went to see my math tutor. I told him that we were doing 3D graphing with a z-axis and he looked at the sheet and gave me some examples. We had to start at rock bottom, since that's where my teacher left off. I completely didn't get this. What is this for? When do we use this? What's the point? What does all this mean? I always need to know why and what I am doing in math. I won't do it if I am just mindlessly calculating; I need to know that I am doing something that is real, and I need to know what it is. And my class does none of that. So I talked to my tutor and he gave me an example: (5,7,8). I used a sheet of blank graphs - the only tangible evidence that we do work in that class - and I plotted the points. "Then what." He looked at me. "Graph it." "I don't know how. He didn't teach us how." With that, the lesson began. He told me to use a ruler and draw two lines through each point - one parallel to each axis that it is not plotted on. Then a box shape will appear. At first I didn't see it. Then he showed me it will look like a box and another behind it, like 2 trees in a picture. So I drew out what it was supposed to look like, and I only knew this because of perspective I learned in art. Then I saw the base of the box. I plotted the other points that formed the box, and I drew more lines. And the points all fell where 2 lines intersected, so each box would be perfectly straight. In class we never learned that. We just drew random boxes and hoped they were right. They never were. My teacher's weren't even right. I felt so accomplished when we finished the first one that I wanted to try one by myself. (1,7,9). I got a little discouraged at first because I didn't see the box. It was invisible. Then I imagined a box in my head, and started to draw what looked right. Then I saw the base of it and started drawing upward. I finally finished the box. But I was still missing something. I didn't know what x, y, and z actually did. What happened if y increased? z decreased? And with some thinking and trial and error I found out what each was and wrote it on the page: x is depth of the box, y is length/width of the box, and z is height. I asked him if my box was right and if what I wrote about the values was right. "Looks good to me." "Really?" "Yes." It was absolutely wonderful. I finally understood math. I actually produced something by myself that was math related and it was right. I discovered something that I never would have before. I found out that I never hated math, despite how natural "I hate math" sounded to me. I never hated it - I hated being chronically confused and perplexed by it. And it just so happens that was all the time. I really don't hate it. I don't love it, but I actually liked getting it right. So I did more of them and I kept getting them right. And nothing was more rewarding. After that we went to my new favorite place, Which Wich, for dinner and we all had delectable sandwiches and desserts. Then I came home and reveled in my success. I finally realized that math is something that I don't hate anymore. It's something I will always have trouble doing, like a dyslexic having trouble with reading and writing. But instead of seeing it as an insurmountable, terrorizing wave of doom, I see it more as a puzzle or a challenge, like a crossword puzzle or a circus trick. I have ranked in the top 10 in the country in a national French exam 2 years in a row. I've gotten all first places at a swim meet. I've gotten a 5 on an AP exam, and I have gotten an A on an anatomy test, the hardest of all science tests. But what I am most proud of is that today I have broken down the wall that separated me and math, and now we are getting along. Yes, happiness can even come from math.

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