Stories from Middle School: The Person in First Period

“Okay, here are the answers,” Ms. Gordon said as she placed the answer sheet onto the projector.

I skimmed through the answers hastily, not wanting to miss any questions. Number 1, check, Number 2, check, Number 6, check, Number 7…Number 7… I paused for a moment and double-checked to make sure that I was checking the correct question. Yup, it was wrong. I stared at the problem and mentally re-added everything together. Same answer. I grabbed my pencil and re-worked it using pencil and paper. Still the same answer.

“Ms. Gordon,” I called out. She looked up from her sheet. “Shouldn’t the answer to number 7 be 2½ quarts instead of 3 quarts?”

Ms. Gordon was not your ordinary stern-faced teacher with wire-rimmed glasses. Well, she actually did wear glasses sometimes, and she could be stern at times, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that she was Ms. Gordon, a short and stout African-American who had a very obvious Southern accent. And she was loud. On Monday mornings at 7:50 AM, we would be all woozy and tired and she’d just be jabbering on to the class. “So what is 34 times 3, class? … Class? Come on, WAKE UP EVERYONE! I don’t want to be the only person thinking at this time!” And when she taught, it wasn’t a lecturing type of teaching. She’d be standing at her projector and writing down each step of whatever she was explaining, with genuine eagerness, asking us questions along the way to make sure we were paying attention to her.

Anyway, after I asked my question, she eyed me suspiciously for a second and then her eyes flickered back to the answer sheet. After a moment, she opened her mouth, but no words came out.

Then she spoke, “Well, you guys didn’t read the question carefully. The question asked how many quarts she needed to buy. Of course she needed 2½ quarts, but she had to buy 3 quarts.” She glared at me with her arms crossed, expecting me to go, “OH…oops.”

But I didn’t. It didn’t make sense! “Why not?” I cautiously answered back.

Ms. Gordon looked at me as if the answer was obvious. “Because you can’t buy half a quart of milk at the grocery store! Half a quart is equivalent to a pint!” She was waving her arms like crazy.

“Well, I’m not in charge of grocery shopping at my house!” I burst out. What was this, a how-often-do-you-go-to-the-grocery-store test?

“Then go to the grocery store more often!” She definitely was annoyed.

“But…but…” I sputtered. “That’s not fair! You can’t take off points for that!” I was annoyed too.

A few minutes later after an excessive amount of debating, the whole class was also annoyed at me, Ms. Gordon was extremely frustrated, and I finally had to admit defeat since “3 quarts was what the book said,” and she “wasn’t accepting any other answer.”

For some reason, that one incident set off a whole chain of arguments. It seemed like every single class period, I would manage to find some reason to argue with her. I never really noticed how seriously she took it until I was telling a friend about it.

“Ms. Gordon never listens to me! She always ends up saying something like, ‘When you get to higher-level math, you will have to be able to do…,’ or ‘The book says _______. You can go write the authors of the book if you want to protest. Those people know a lot more about math than you do.’ I just don’t find math class fun anymore!” I complained.

My friend looked at me kind of funnily with a slight smile and said, “So you were that person in first period that Ms. Gordon kept on talking about.”

A lot of my friends think I’m weird in a way. I’ve been known to come up with some random theory about something and then try to explain it to my friends without any success at all. It would often take up the entire lunch period, and they would constantly ask, “So exactly what is your point?” and according to them, I would keep changing the topic to something else. They could never get my “point.” It was just plain frustrating.

Anyways, I was surprised by her comment. “Ms. Gordon said something about me?” My eyes widened.

“Yeah, she keeps saying that there’s this person in first period that keeps arguing with her.”

 “What?!” I nearly shouted. I wasn’t really trying to argue with her, I was just proving my own answers right! I never said her answers were wrong! And she would never listen to me!

After some more questioning, I also found out that Ms. Gordon thought I was “stubborn,” “annoying,” “frustrating,” along with a whole list of other things.

The truth was I actually wasn’t used to arguing with teachers and being so…loud. (I was a different person with my friends. They thought I was amusing.) It was already the second semester, and everyone had their place among the teachers. I was the type of student who would sit in the off center region of the room and listen to everyone else talk. Something must just have come over me at 8 o’clock in the morning every day in math class.

One day after an argument (do you seriously need subtraction to realize that 4 is greater than 3?), she decided to confront me. “You know, I tell all my classes about you.”

I laughed. “I know. I’ve been asking around.” She didn’t even look surprised.

Every time I said anything that was barely disagreed with Ms. Gordon, the entire class would groan very loudly, and Ms. Gordon would always look annoyed and cross her arms even though her eyes kind of sparked a little. So, in order to get her less annoyed, (not completely unannoyed. I still had my pride.) I tried to shorten my arguments to under a minute so they wouldn’t be as time consuming. Yet during lunch, my friends would still tell me, “Ms. Gordon said that she had a looong argument with ‘a certain person in first period whom you all should know very well by now.’”  

But there was also the time my friends told me, “Ms. Gordon said ‘That person in first period proved me wrong today.’” I was so proud. Another time, she purposefully pointed out a mistake I had made on a worksheet. I think that she actually enjoyed arguing with me just so she could tell all the other classes about it.

Thanks to Ms. Gordon, the entire grade knew about my “half-quart” arguments with her. Once when I was in another class, I was defending my answer (I wasn’t really arguing.) and the whole class was like, “Don’t start arguing again like you do with Ms. Gordon.” The teacher actually didn’t look too surprised. In fact, since I had completely broken out of my “place” with Ms. Gordon, I was suspecting that all the other teachers were wondering why I still was the same quiet person in their classes.

I still didn’t know if Ms. Gordon liked me or hated me though. It seemed like she got really annoyed every time I said something contradictory, but according to my friends, she would usually (not always) be smiling whenever she mentioned “this person in first period.” Another friend said that she had to really like me in order to not get super mad at me when I argued with her. Still, she did seem frustrated when I was arguing with her.

Soon, it was end of the year, and most of my doubts about Ms. Gordon started unfolding. First was awards day, where the entire middle school crowds into the cafeteria and the teachers go up on stage to present awards to specific students. When it was Ms. Gordon’s turn, she went up to the podium and told us that she gave awards to the people who “really pushed her.” I’m telling you, it was creepy having the entire grade glare at you at the same time and mumble your name. And once she called my name, I was pretty sure of one thing. She didn’t hate me–it was the complete opposite.

Then on the last day of school, when I was saying bye to all the teachers, another teacher told me, “You know, Ms. Gordon thought very highly of you. You wouldn’t believe what she said to us during lunchtime.” (She didn’t mention anything about her own class…)

Now that I think about it, there was something special about Ms. Gordon, and it wasn’t really the arguing (although it was fun.) It was more of the way she made me feel different. I mean, I wasn’t just a student that was …there. I was actually someone to Ms. Gordon–me.

Over the summer, I went to the grocery store. They didn’t sell half quarts of milk there, only pints. But they sold half gallons and half pints. What’s wrong with half quarts?


I wrote this in 7th grade about my 6th grade math class. Intentionally left unedited.

 

The Struggle of the Ambivert

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Am I an introvert or extrovert? I will probably never know. The case for both are pretty compelling, and every personality test has split me 50-50 on extraversion/intraversion.

The Introvert:

  • In almost every overnight school trip I’ve taken, there has been at least one instance in which I’ve actively denied a chance to be social to sit in my room and instead read/write/surf the internet
  • I’m pretty awkward. Nuff said.
  • I keep a very introspective blog
  • I learn best from a book and silently listening (sometimes)

The Extrovert:

  • I get overly excited about things others would judge me for, namely math
  • I like starting conversations with people I don’t know
  • I like starting conversations with people I do know
  • When I used to play piano, I absolutely hated playing any slow pieces. The quick energetic pieces were my favorite (and ended up being the pieces I played the best)

Best explanation I can think of is this: In a room of introverts, I am the extrovert. In a room of extroverts, I am the introvert.

Stories from Middle School: Mathcounts

This is related to one of my earlier posts: Partitions and the Quadratic Formula, but written from a broader perspective. Also, with more nostalgia. 

incorrect derivation

Yes, I know this is wrong. And that’s the point.

One of my most vivid educational experiences dates back to a middle school math competition– Mathcounts. After months of hard work, our team of four students were ecstatic to have qualified to compete at the state level in Austin.  In the weeks leading up, our sponsor had one goal in mind: beat St. John’s. This sentiment had been building up throughout the year. St. John’s was the local private school whose team had beaten us at the regional competition.

In preparation for the competition, we worked through lunch for a month to solve math problems in our coach’s classroom. Anyone who walked in would have seen four people huddled around a table talking numbers, but like children mesmerized by magic, we didn’t care what the others thought. Together, we had found something greater.

When we were able to solve a hard problem without guidance, the happiness was contagious. That is, until we realized the multitude of problems ahead of us and that many before us had already solved these problems. Nevertheless, to us each solution was an element in a series of epiphanies. As a team, we explained difficult problems to confused team members. When we were truly stuck, our coach would pull out the solution manual, and we would try to make sense of the official explanations.

As we pushed ourselves through problem set after problem set, we developed a mutual respect for each other. Like four legs of a table, our team was built on the idea that in order for the group to succeed, we needed support from all members. During the team rounds, we split up problems and learned to settle disputes quickly and effectively (though not always accurately). We shared our victories and failures, our laughter and frustration, our stupidest mistakes and grandest insights.

Through solving hundreds of different problems, I gradually learned probability, analytic geometry, and number theory. This was before I had taken Algebra 1. By comparison, my math class seemed dull (though I didn’t tell this to my sponsor, who was also my teacher at the time).

One day of practice in particular stands out. It was the Friday before spring break, and we had finished reviewing a set of problems with nearly 20 minutes left. One of our team members, Alex, decided that the logical thing to do was to go to the chalkboard and write ax^2+bx+c=0 followed by the statement “I’m going to derive the quadratic formula.”

When I was in kindergarten, my brother had made me memorize a sentence starting with “x equals” that included a bunch of a’s, b’s, and c’s. That was about all I knew of the quadratic equation. Deriving this mystical formula was a big deal for me, something complicated and important, though it had no bearing in our preparation for the state competition.

So I watched in awe as he rearranged and factored terms, until we were left with something that looked suspiciously like the quadratic formula.

Wait no. One thing was missing. An “a.”

For some reason, this mistake made us crack up and start repeatedly exclaiming “WHERE’S THE A?”.

The end of lunch bell rang. None of us left the board.

The students from our teacher’s next class began trickling in. They saw the four of us freaking out over a board of algebra searching for some mysterious “a” and silently stared at us.

After balancing our laughing with serious efforts to find our mistake, we found the “a” lost inside a fraction.  Alex quickly filled in the chain of mistakes that the  ‘a’ had created and we excitedly proclaimed to all within earshot, “WE FOUND THE ‘A’!”

The tardy bell rang, and we were officially late to our next period.

That didn’t stop Alex from exclaiming, “YES! I FINALLY GOT IT! I HAVE TO WRITE THIS DOWN!” Meanwhile, I knew I had to get to my next class. So while he was scribbling down the slanted rows of algebra onto a sheet of notebook paper, I packed my stuff and went to my next class, still feeling the euphoria from deriving a long complicated algebra equation and hoping that my 4th period teacher wouldn’t mind that I was late.

Two weeks later, we had to leave school right after lunch on Friday for the state competition. This was my first time staying away from home overnight with friends. As fun as this sounds for a middle school student, there was still a sense of pressure. This was when we were supposed to beat St. Johns. Something had to result from the loads of math problems and unfinished lunches.

After busting our brains through three intensive rounds of math harder than anything we had practiced, we were a bit demoralized, but still hoped for the best. Fortunately, we ended up placing 7th in the state, beat St. Johns, and all individually ranked in the top 25% of students.

There have been few days where I have felt as happy as I did when I clutched that right-triangle-shaped trophy on stage alongside my team members. But that happiness was mixed. At the same time, I knew that the state competition marked the end of our lunchtime practices, and that the sense of unity we felt as we worked towards a common goal was coming to a close. Two of our team members would be going on to high school, and I knew that the team I had grown accustomed to working with would soon change.

Math is easily the most stigmatized subject in America, even more so amongst girls, but within our 3 girl, 1 guy team, none of that mattered. I was extremely lucky be a part of this amazing experience with such a group of talented people who shared similar interests in middle school, and I’ve carried this motivation with me throughout high school.

We weren’t going through intensive training like the top schools and students did. Our sponsor merely sat back and let us learn from each other. There were no textbooks, no curriculum, no formula memorizing, no technology (even our calculator use was minimal)–we simply had problem sets, their solutions, pencils, and lots and lots of scratch paper. We were doing what we considered to be important in our learning, and we had the freedom to explore the topics that truly piqued our interest.

Orthogonal Vectors

Disclaimer: This post is not actually about math.

In physics, vectors that are orthogonal have absolutely no effect on each other. A force acting on an object in the y direction will have no impact on that object in the x direction. (Why? NO ONE KNOWS.)

In math, it’s just as clear: Standalone ideas have no effect on each other at all.

I couldn't find an interesting picture, so I went with the most boring picture I could find. Note the Comic Sans and the 2003 publication date.

I couldn’t find any interesting pictures, so I went with the most boring picture I could find. Note the use of Comic Sans and the 2003 publication date.

So why can’t this same principle be applied to ethical problems? Just like with physics problems,  the individual parts that make up a problem should have no effect on each other.

The Heinz Dilemma

Let’s start with the classic example used in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development:

Heinz’s wife was dying from a particular type of cancer. Doctors said a new drug might save her. The drug had been discovered by a local chemist and the Heinz tried desperately to buy some, but the chemist was charging ten times the money it cost to make the drug and this was much more than the Heinz could afford.

Heinz could only raise half the money, even after help from family and friends. He explained to the chemist that his wife was dying and asked if he could have the drug cheaper or pay the rest of the money later. The chemist refused saying that he had discovered the drug and was going to make money from it. The husband was desperate to save his wife, so later that night he broke into the chemist’s and stole the drug.

-from http://www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html

The question is, should Heinz have stolen the drug?

Split it up.

Stealing:

Is stealing bad? Yes.

Really bad? Well, going to jail bad. And that’s only if you get caught.

Conclusion: If you steal, you get the medicine and might go to jail.

His wife dying:

Is his wife dying bad? Yes.

Really bad? Yes. (In the sense that virtually everything else in life is reversible.)

Is there anything he can do to help? Yes. Steal the medicine.

Conclusion: His wife dying is really bad, and he can steal the medicine to save her life.

Putting the two vectors together, this is what you get:

Either he steals the medicine and gets caught and goes to jail, or he doesn’t steal the medicine and his wife dies. It’s balancing jail time with his wife’s death. Going to jail is clearly the lesser of two evils here, so the man should steal the medicine and go to jail.

Pretty straightforward right?

A follow up situation:

A policeman on guard sees the man steal the medicine. Should he report him or not?

Before you start being all sympathetic, remember that his wife is dying is on an orthogonal vector to the man going to jail. They should have no impact on each other. If you do something, you pay the consequences. 

So should the policeman report the man? Yes. And the man should steal the drug knowing that he might get caught.

The argument shouldn’t be “I know he stole something, but his wife was dying.” It should be “I know he stole something, and his wife was dying.”  There is no correlation between these two .

When we first did this exercise in my psychology class, my teacher said that in the highest stage of morality, the man should have stolen the drug and then turned himself him. My conclusion was that he should steal the drug knowing that he would get caught. Not quite there, but I’m still proud of myself for getting where I did.

Charlie Hebdo

Now to apply this to current events.

Is killing 12 people bad? Yes. (Same logic– it’s irreversible)

Even if there’s a reason? Yes

Was the reason bad? Not really.

Is offending a specific group of people bad? Sure.

Is free speech good? Sure.

Are they mutually exclusive? (aka can you have free speech without offending people?) Most likely not.

Did the event catch people’s attention? Yes.

In a good way? No.

Did it prove a point? Yes.

Was it the intended point of the attackers? Probably not.

I could keep going about this, (Don’t get me started on Je Suis Charlie), but even just adding up all these vectors, what do you get?

It depends on the magnitude of each individual vector, but you’ll always end up with a multi-dimensional vector. In other words, something complicated. 

I know that’s not a satisfying answer. How are you supposed to feel about this?  Is this just going to be another one “I’m too much of an intellectual to have an opinion about this so I’ll just not say anything.” conclusions?

Yes. And I’m not going to apologize for it. Even as I was writing everything, I had to resist the urge to find a news article that would just tell me what I was supposed to believe about the entire incident. If you’re looking for that, go to your news site of choice.

Problems:  

As always, complicated problems are easier to solve when you look at them through a mathematical perspective, but that’s not always reasonable. Hypothetical situations and faraway current events are easy to analyze, but what about something more personal?

In the case of the Heinz dilemma, a common follow up question is: “Would/Should Heinz have done the same if the sick person was a stranger?” Or what if I was the guy selling the drug? Would I see Heinz’s actions as ethical? In the case of Charlie Hebdo, what if I were French? A Muslim? What if I personally knew one of the editors that was killed? Would that change my views? Heck yeah.

You mean math doesn’t work for everything? Bummer

Once you introduce the personal element, you also could argue that all the vectors aren’t orthogonal. For instance, is the fact that 12 people were killed really not correlated with catching media attention and sparking a social movement? It becomes less clear.

Sometimes I wish that I could treat all the people I know as vectors and keep everyone in their own dimension. It’d make things so much easier to manage. But that’s not how the world works. Inevitably, everyone’s vectors collide into each other at various angles, thanks to something called human nature. How can you be completely objective when your human nature vector keeps crashing into everything unexpectedly?

But frankly, even though it might pay off in the long run to be objective,  I feel like I need the slightest shred of irrationality to justify my existence as a living being. Our tiny deviations from ideal behavior are what define human nature. Otherwise, we’re all just robots following a set of arbitrary rules. Living is a form of art. And just like other forms of art, it’s a virtue to follow the rules, but the real living happens when you break the rules.


Often I think my defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness. But sometimes I think it’s the only thing that has preserved me intact, and that what has been preserved is not just haughty caprice but in fact the meaning of my life. So this is what I told Mao: In lieu of loving the world twice as hard, I care, in the end, about expressing my obdurate singularity at any cost. I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it.

Paper Tigers

If people behaved like water molecules…

3

Drawn in the style of Math with Bad Drawings and inspired by the Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge. Humor is hard. Don’t judge.


Adhesion: Like attracts like

You might call it attraction at first sight.

Cohesion: Like attracts unlike

Also, why does he have a mouth? And how am I talking?

Hydrogen bonding: Weak spontaneous bonds

Don't worry, I'll come back for you shortly enough

High specific heat: It takes a lot of heat to raise the temperature

I also have double eyebrows for some reason.

Expands when frozen: Related to hydrogen bonding and the structure of water.

Hey, where are the rest of you? FRED GET BACK HERE. I SAW THAT.

Universal solvent: Dissolves nearly everything (except for non-polar solutions)

Dish soap's like a matchmaker though. It'll make me mix with dish soap.

Surface tension: Difficult to break the surface

(Now I realize that the phrase is "Ain't nobody messin with my clique." Whoops)

Capillary action: Climbs up a stalk against gravity on its own

I don't know why one of them has a black eye.

Transparency: See through. Also tinted blue.

This is like prison. Seriously. How would you like it if you were placed in a glass box for the rest of your life?

Neutral pH: Neither acidic or basic.

I mean, look at those other idiots around me. What's H? And OH? Are they just realizing something?


Do you know what I have to go through everyday?

Math is hard

I constantly try to organize my life story so I can have a record to look back upon. Whether it be to other people, to the internet, on a spare sheet of paper, to my own Google Keep, there’s some days I can’t help but frame in a nostalgic light even as I’m writing, though the events themselves were in no way glorious at the time.

Today is one of those days.


Starting at 6:45 AM, we are standing at the circle drive in front of our school waiting to be shuttled over to A&M. There’s a bus leaving for debate on the other side of the building, and it’s SAT testing day, but we’re here for math.

As the huddles of Asian parents made small talk with each other, we stood in small circles ourselves, trying to withstand the cold and laughed about how screwed we were for math.

When everyone arrives, we split up into our respective cars. The carpool groups are self selected, and I’m in a car with most of the power team members. Because we have important things to get done. Our answers to the power team questions, complete with solutions and explanations, are due at A&M by 9:15. It is currently 7 o’clock. There are 11 questions. We have 3 solutions written out. And we are still in Houston.

So as we’re speeding down the highway at 65 mph guided by a GPS, the four of us in the back are writing math on our laps, trying to organize the messy work we had scrawled earlier on random sheets of paper into presentable solutions. Ideas and jokes are bounced around, requests to check algebra or reasonability of argument are made, papers are passed back and forth, and by the time we arrive at A&M, we have compiled a set of 9 and a half solutions, some better than others (one of our explanations was pretty much, “by randomly guessing, we found that 3 was a solution.”), but nonetheless, stapled together and ready to turn in.

I’m still sleepy and all the writing in the car has made me a bit carsick, and stepping out of the car is refreshing. One of the other cars from Bellaire arrives right behind us, and  Immediately I notice the overwhelming number of Asians and guys walking along the sides, and I am reminded that I am indeed at a math competition.

A group of students are playing frisbee out in front, and when we walk inside, the foyer is filled with clumps of students, parents, and sponsors, either talking math, joking around, or doing who knows. I recognize a couple famous faces in the world of math, but asides from that, I don’t know anyone. We find a tiny bar-sized table with two chairs near the entrance and set our stuff down. The people from the last car arrive, and while our sponsor is registering us, we sort out who’s taking what test. Some of us (including me) pull out practice tests and review some important trig identities, while the others stand around and talk.

I see someone else I recognize walk in, and with a hushed whisper, I tell the rest of the group. They call out his name, he gives us a wave, and walks into his group of math friends. Our sponsor returns with a folder with the schedule and room numbers for our respective tests. People pull out their phones to take pictures, and turn their head and rotate the map to make sense of where their room is supposed to be.

5 minutes before our exam is supposed to start, I walk with A to our room. The door is closed but unlocked, and the black gauze over the window makes it hard to look in. Only a few people are waiting outside, and we don’t want to be disqualified. Finally, one of us decides to open the door and walk in. The auditorium is almost full.

We walk in and try to find two empty seats in a row. Someone calls out A’s name, and I see a middle school classmate sitting near the front. We take the seats in front of him and  laugh at the chairless seat adjacent to us. As we catch up with our friend, throwing back various math competition terms back and forth, the proctors are getting competition materials ready.

We end up starting nearly 20 minutes late, and I spend the next hour busting out my brains to various problems completely unlike the ones I had prepared for. I’m unsure of most of my answers, but record all of them down and make guesses for the ones I have no clue about. When the proctor calls time, I have no regrets, but when I walk out of the room and our sponsor has the solutions ready, I start panicking.

The rest of the people are hogging the solutions manual, checking over which questions they missed, while I’m nervously holding my questions page and really hoping that I didn’t make any stupid mistakes. (When I eventually do check my answers, I learn that I made two mistakes, though I did randomly guess one question correctly.)

Half the people leave at this point to go back to Houston, and I consider doing so too, until I decide that a 2 hour car ride isn’t worth an hour of exams. We go to our next round, which is in a large auditorium and sit down. By this point, I’m already brain dead and brute force my way through as many of the problems as possible.

Our sponsor and A’s parents are waiting for us when we walk out of the round. It’s lunchtime, and we need to find some place to eat. The only place open nearby is a Chick-fil a, (which I later learn has a really snarky cashier)  so we eat lunch there. We look over questions as we eat and debate over whether it’s worth doing the Buzz contest. None of the us want to do it, but A’s parents persuade (read: force) us to give it a try. (“We didn’t drive for 2 hours for you not to do the Buzz round.”)

Begrudgingly, we walk into another auditorium and take a series of 5 seats next to each other. We’re trying to work out how the rules work, (to anyone interested, look here) and as the seats fill up around us, the nerves start to wrack up. There’s no way that we’re going to win, but we all still want to do our best.

By the end of the first round, the original 5 Bellaire people we had have become A and I, and nearly half of the people had been eliminated. Having A to talk to makes the round much more bearable, as we can whisper what number we’re on and which conditions the current number satisfies. The two of us make it through another round before we both trip up on 157 (clearly the sum of two squares, 121 and 36. *sarcasm*) and get eliminated. However, this also means that we can finally return home.

After a restroom break and while we’re waiting for the other, A realizes that the building we’re in has talking elevators and insists that we take one up to the top floor. This is all fun and games until we reach the top floor, where we try to find a stairwell to go back down. However, we find a fire extinguisher and a fire alarm and fire precautions next to each staircase, and we don’t want to set off any fire alarms.

I slowly push one of the doors open. Nothing happens. I laugh, and the three of us quickly run down 5 flights of stairs, back to where we were supposed to be in front of the first floor elevators. The others have hid in a hallway and attempt to jump out at us when we arrive, it’s a failure.

Finally, we can go home. Without a power round to work, the ride back is a lot more relaxed, and we talk about random topics while A attempts to do homework. J plays some K-pop, and after another two hours. we’re back in Houston, back at the circle drive where this entire day started.

Music to this post. (I feel like it’s relevant somehow)

If you’ve never failed a test, you’re studying too much

Inspired by a chapter in How Not To Be Wrong, more specifically the chapter described in this article: “If You’ve Never Missed a Flight, You’re Probably Wasting Your Time.

One of the really nice things about junior year is that the teachers expect you to be more self reliant, which translates to a lot less busy work. This also means that there’s a greater responsibility to figure out how to study and learn, as most classes are extremely test heavy.

I’ve noticed that I’d rather understudy than overstudy for a test. For English, which I have at the end of the day, this means I’d rather cram vocabulary in my other classes the day of the quiz instead of studying over the weekend. For my other classes, this means I don’t study at all if I feel like I learned the material well enough in class. On the other hand, I study like crazy if I have no idea about the information. Whether “failing” is defined as below a 90 or below a 70, I’m trying to minimize unnecessary studying as much as possible.

How Not To Be Wrong does a mathematical analysis of how many “utils” you gain by being on time for your flight versus how much time you spent at the airport.

Say you arrive at the airport 5 hours in advance. (0 utils) You’d never miss a flight (~5 utils), but is all that time spent waiting really worth it? What if you got there only 1 hour in advance (~2 utils) and missed your flight 15% of the time? (85% * 5) It’d be a hassle occasionally, but what couldn’t you could accomplish with the extra 4 hours?

What if you applied the same principle to grades? Is a 100 on a test really worth it if you spent 10 hours studying for it? Some people would say yes. I wouldn’t. There’s other things I’d rather do than study. Like sleep. Typically, I stop studying for a test once I decide that sleeping would be better for my grade (and health) than additional studying.

Grades don’t work on the same binary scale as missing a flight though. Studying an hour for a test more would have a tangible impact on a grade, while getting to the airport an hour early would still result in making the flight on time. Also, more studying= more learning. How can that be bad?

My best answer is that once you learn the core of the information, any additional content is easy to pick up if necessary and not always worth your time.  Applying the Pareto principle here (aka the 80-20 rule), you’ll spend 20% of your time learning 80% of the material. Conversely, this means that 80% of your time will be spent understanding 20% of the material. Not the best use of your time.

(Ok maybe this entire post is just an elaborate excuse not to study for my calc test tomorrow.)