Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Mathematics - my first love

[Dedicated to all my friends who know me really well and were with me during the times described below, all my teachers who loved me for what I was, and to all my students who liked me for the reasons only they know :) Happy Teacher's Day!]

"Is There a ‘Right’ Way to Learn Math?" - I read this article today and I could relate to this article so much that I felt I was writing the first few paragraphs myself..

The exact example of the relation between multiplication & addition happened with me too, and incidentally that was my first thrilling experience with the subject. When I discovered that 2 x 3 is the same as 2 + 2 + 2, I was thrilled, but when I realized that is is same as 3 x 2 and further that all of these also equal 3 + 3, I wanted to jump out of joy. The excitement continued for a few days, those few nights were my best sleep nights.

And my fascination for Mathematics continued, for a really long time particular fascination of numbers remained, while other areas like Trigonometry & Calculus enjoyed their own share of charm as well. Whatever the teacher taught in the class, used to just get imprinted on to my mind (I have a good memory people say, I agree too though it is slightly fading away - as much as I don’t want to admit, people grow old and I am no exception! :) I do have a strong photographic memory too), I never needed any repetition of any concept, anything. Once, was enough, most likely because I was in love with the subject. While I was a really studious student, I used to religiously revise what was taught in school that day and read things myself - before & after type of a thing to understand the basics of the concept taught. I would rightly guess exactly what questions would come in the exam, and when I come out of my exam I would know exactly how much would I score because I knew exactly how many marks would be cut for what kind of mistake. I never got anything without hard work, real hard work. If at all I missed a small concept, small snippet of something, that one small little thing will appear in the exam. The pattern continued through my childhood and I got real tight slaps from my mother when I lost marks because I didn’t revise that one little tiny thing. Many of my classmates did really well even without studying as religiously as me. I realized ‘luck’ wasn’t for me. I grew up to become even more studious hence. While in college, I used to sit with the calculator (the scientific calculator - it was Orpat, this one) for hours together just like that playing with numbers, I discovered the pattern:
1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987...

The differences between say 12 x 6 and 16 x 2; 15 x 7 and 17 x 5 and why those patterns and so on, by myself.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone around to share my excitement. There was something about the subject, about those numbers, all types of numbers, those theorems, the parabolas, the hyperbolas, the tan thetas and sin thetas and cos thetas. Questions like ‘why was the derivative of sin theta, cos theta?’ - I would think of these questions myself and I would find answers. It was true nirvana! Two specific instances I remember from my college days are:
1. f(x) = 1/ax: My professor who used to teach us Linear Algebra, asked a question casually once on something on some function. He described some unique thing about that function and asked us to guess and let him know the next day. All that day - during the class, after the class, during my commute to home after college, doing my household chores I kept on thinking. Suddenly, while I was doing the dishes at home late evening that day, there was a spark in my mind. I had the answer. The function was f(x) = 1/ax. Next day in the class, he asked and I answered. I was confident it was true because it was satisfying all the clauses mentioned. My professor reacted ‘Vhery good’, and he would almost jump off the dias. ‘Very good’, he repeated!
2. Two lines of regression: Related to Mathematics, my profound love to Statistics also grew. I was particularly in love with Regression as a topic. And while reading through this book Fundamentals of Mathematical Statistics by Gupta & Kapoor (this book), I found something very different from what I usually worked on. Usually, there is a regression line and we have a dependent variable and an independent variable. At least I, never thought of the case when we interchange the roles of the 2 variables. Hence, comes the concept of 2 lines of regression. This was not my discovery though, but there was something about this concept. I read the entire chapter twice and thrice to just multiply the thrill. I wished before the exam that that question should come and I would answer, and it did, and I answered like I achieved nirvana! I had this thing, I would leave all simple questions, pick up the ones that are challenging, and answer them first. Feel the nirvana and then answer the rest of them which didn’t matter much, from the nirvana standpoint. It worked, my hands ached after every exam because my mind ran faster than my hands & fingers and my hands & fingers used to feel literally racing with my mind. In that exam, I scored 58/100, for some reason all my answers were incorrect but I was extremely happy because that one question was there and I had the opportunity to answer that.

I grew up to teach Mathematics at school, both Maths and Statistics at college and so on. I loved teaching too, but never wanted to teach the regular topics, though some of my students felt the same way I felt as a student, on some concepts that I would consider basic by then. So, I could relate. I loved teaching because I liked learning, the thrill remained though not that much because I was ‘working’ and always chasing a deadline, in this case covering up the entire syllabus.

Anyway, life after that wasn’t as interesting.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

'Smart' parenting?

When I got pregnant, I wanted to read about the same, naturally, and all possible information at one place. I got this book as a gift through our company's Maternity Wellness Program, "What to expect when you are expecting" - by Heidi Murkoff. I don't want to go into the details of how stressful the phase was for me, for various reasons even outside of the normal & regular anticipated ones!

I want to talk about what worked best for me, from the points discussed in the above book a bit and the next book by the same author, "What to expect the first year".

The books talked about each and everything covering both emotional and practical aspects, which I loved the most about the first book in particular. It gave me the confidence that it is not a crime to think about my convenience.
I really liked how the book acknowledged that it is an extremely tiring experience anyway, and described some smart options to make the experience rewarding.

Among many, the four smart choices I adopted that worked the best for me/us so far are:
1. Crib: I always wanted the baby to sleep in her own crib, and not in the same bed as us because I had a strong feeling none of us would be able to sleep well otherwise. My family said the baby wouldn't feel safe/secured/protected if I did that. Well, while they planted that doubt in my mind, not that I cared too much, but I also didn't have an option because we have a dog who was used to climbing on to our bed and pushing us to make his space to settle well and sleep peacefully. After the baby came in, he has himself made a choice to sleep in his own bed, he is smarter & more considerate than we thought he was!

2. Day care: I joined office right after my maternity leave per policy was over. I didn't know how it would work out but since there were no major concerns at home and my husband was very hands-on, we thought I should join back. I was also clear that I would put her in the day care, the book made me more confident. We explored the option, she was growing up much faster than we (my husband :)) thought she would! She was about 8 months old when we started to put her in the day care, we started with the half-day option and after 3 months we moved her into the full day option. It turned out to be a very smart decision again to do so. There is no way we could entertain her at our home the way she gets entertained in her day care - with 100 times more toys than what we could keep at home, and many other children around. The day care also was the option we thought of because:
a. The other option could be having a full time maid - we were not used to having anyone at home and we wanted to have our privacy intact.
I know a full time maid at home to take care of the child is a preferred option by many to make sure the kid stays home, under our vigilance, and stay away from infections. But I think keeping vigilance is also a big task, day cares do that for us - they have a maid, and the vigilance is the teacher's duty so that headache is taken away from us. And, day cares have a reputation to take care of, and they are obligated in a way which a maid won't be in my view.
b. I am strongly against employing any girl to take care of my child, specially minor girls or even the ones who still can explore better options and not work like this.
Of course, the catch here is to find a good day care (especially to avoid infections and other serious issues) that suits your needs/preferences - thankfully we found one, and we are really grateful to the staff there!

3. Car seat: My husband and I wanted to be as independent as possible; if one of the two of us was missing, we wanted to have an option for the second person to handle things on his/her own. One big thing was taking the kid in the car, hence came the car seat. We bought the car seat around the time she started the day care. I think it is a good experience for the kids as well, she keeps looking around without disturbing, so far we have not had any unpleasant experiences taking her around in the car seat. It is safer, and suits more practical reasons as well like my clothes not getting spoilt/crumpled :)

4. Sleep routine: After the first few months, I started kind of a ritual of giving her a bath before sleep, or I actually tried this to induce sleep. I don't know when it became a routine for her - I think children adapt to patterns pretty quickly and a couple of days of doing the same things in the same order does the trick!

She comes from the day care really happy, and tired --> she is usually not in a mood to eat anything so we instructed the day care to feed her something before she leaves, it fit well in her day schedule and food timings also --> she plays for about an hour or so and it is soon 'bathing' and 'goodnight' time --> we give her a bath, change to her night dress and she has milk before she sleeps in her crib, and she usually doesn't wake up through the night, she never did even when she was young; unless in some outlier situations. After which we are able to do our work (like I wrote this blog :)), wind up and so on and get a good night sleep ourselves!