Saturday, January 16, 2010

still alive

For the time being, anyway.

I apologize for the abrupt conclusion of my "project 365" after five days, but, well, break has been... boring, to be perfectly blunt. I cannot believe I'm going to say this, but I think vacation was too long, and I can't wait for the semester to start up again. I'm not crazy, I promise.

My reasoning here is that I require some sort of goal in order to feel productive. During the fall semester, there was no shortage of goals. Do well in my classes. Help out my students in the basic skills math lab. Make sure all bills get paid on time. These are all real, attainable goals with specific deadlines, specific rewards for completion and specific punishments for failure. They helped me to feel like I was being productive with all of my time, even the time I would spend relaxing on weekends to recover from the rest of the week.

For the past month of vacation, I haven't had those same goals. I was happy to get the apartment clean, happy to start having time to cook for myself as opposed to eat out several nights a week, etc. But really, the only overarching "goals" that I've had over break are to start going to the gym again and to continue leveling up in Modern Warfare 2 so I get killed less often. Neither of these has either a specific deadline or a specific punishment for failure.

(A couple of notes here. First, I don't see my inability to get into a gym routine [yet] as having a punishment for failure. I'm in good enough shape in general that I don't have a pressing need to go to the gym; I'd just like to build more muscle on these skinny bones. Second, I don't count repeated death-by-headshot in MW2 as a punishment, because after all, it's just a game. I'm talking real-life punishment.)

Granted, it's been nice to relax, especially in advance of what I know is going to be a crazy 2010. Spring semester is going to be another 12-credit course load, on top of having comprehensive exams to worry about. The summer brings my final 3 graduate credits and, likely, a job search that has me start teaching in the fall. I may not have this much time to myself again until summer 2011 (and even then, I may have certification classes).

That said, I'll be happy to resume my journey towards being where I want to be -- my vision of finally being at least a little bit "successful".

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Project 365, Day 5

Guess where I'm going again, starting this week and hopefully continuing throughout the semester? (And yes, I am proud enough of my font-like handwriting that you're getting it for two pictures in a row. Actually, I'm even more proud over the completion of this little notepad project.)

Project 365, Day 4

Using one of my lifelines early here. I knew it'd be tough figuring out what to take a picture of each day, but I didn't realize I'd be stuck taking pictures of crossword puzzles to fill the void.

Then again, this is an accomplishment -- after falling miserably out of practice (safe for the Friday puzzle that Sarah and I managed to plod through), I managed to complete a puzzle solo*, even if it was only a Monday puzzle. (Compared to the weekend puzzles, Mondays almost seem like freebies.) It seems appropriate that the first of these I worked on by myself would include the answer "Yale" (14 across, "Harvard rival").

Click to get the full-effect -- the lack of discernible eraser marks and my font-like caps lock handwriting.
EDIT: Upon further review, there are a LOT of discernible eraser marks. I suppose it's good that I'm not yet confident enough to go back to doing these in pen.

The puzzle includes a quote that they say is relevant to crossword solvers, but I find it works for anyone who's ever been to college: "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." Thank you, Bertrand Russell, for enabling my procrastination.

* I say "solo", but I can't take complete credit; I did have to ask Katie for help on one clue. For some reason, it completely slipped my mind that "Old Japanese assassin" could possibly be "ninja". Oops.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

From the New World

Perhaps I'm being a little bit too dramatic in comparing my move to the apartment to Dvorak's famous symphony? Nah, not really. It's my first venture out into the real world, and so far, I approve greatly.

What follows is a photo tour of Apt. 1-D. Captions will be below the photo they represent.

Here's the entrance area of my apartment, which also doubles as the dining room.

Help! My apartment has a kitchen and I don't know what to do! Well, okay, I'm getting a little better at it, though there is still plenty of frozen pizza to go around.

The kitchen, dining area, living room and my "office" are all in one large room upon entering my apartment, sorta like the common room of a college dorm. Only difference is I don't have to share it all with anyone. Here you can see the half-wall that separates kitchen from living room, as well as my TV and appliance table.

The view from the living room out into my "office". I spend a lot of time at the desk on the right. I don't spend nearly enough time at the desk on the left. (Oh, and please ignore the fact that my couch is straight out of the 70s. Remember, I'm a poor grad student.)

Another view out from the living room, this time including the dining area and the awesome chair that matches nothing. (Refer to the above comment about the 70s and poor grad students.)

A view of my desks from the apartment door. The dark area in the back there through the threshold will be explored after one more picture from my common room.

One more view of the living room, which was first seen in yesterday's picture. The only difference is that we've replaced Sarah with an air conditioner. Worst trade ever.

Bathroom, complete with wooden duck atop the toilet's water tank.

Walk-in closet in the hallway between common area and bedroom. It's the second most impressive walk-in closet in my apartment.

This one's in my bedroom. For those who don't know me that well, yes, this is completely normal and not at all over-the-top for me.

My wonderfully comfortable bed, complete with bed frame that wasn't here for the first two months of living here. (Yes, my nightstand is supported by milk crates. I believe I mentioned I'm a poor grad student?) These two and the TV stand are the only pieces of furniture in the apartment that I purchased prior to moving in -- everything else is hand-me-down. I honestly think everything looks a lot better than that sounds.

And finally, the dresser on which my stereo sleeps. If you thought the walk-in was meticulously organized, you should see the contents of the dresser. There are three drawers for socks alone.

And thus concludes our first tour of the apartment. I admit, I'm fairly minimalist in terms of decoration. It's a mixture of not having enough time when I first moved in (four days between move-in and the start of the semester) and not being sure how long I'm staying here. My lease is for a month year, and whether I stay here past next August depends on where I end up working next school year, so I haven't been very inspired to decorate the place just to have to tear down in a few months. We'll see how that plays out once the job hunt begins.

Project 365, Day 2

I need to come up with a cleverer title for the posts where I have nothing more to add than a picture and a caption. This is descriptive, but I feel like I need to name my endeavor somehow. (If I ever come up with something, I'll just go back and remove this paragraph entirely. Enjoy reading it while it lasts!)

Meanwhile, hey look, it's Sarah!

Sarah was kind enough to stop by the apartment today between family functions in nearby Teaneck. Much fun was had between Rock Band, Scrabble and a Friday crossword puzzle from the New York Times crosswords page-a-day calendar. That poor puzzle never stood a chance against our combined forces -- few puzzles ever do. So yeah, take that, puzzle from January 5, 2007!*

* No, I am not so hard up that I am using a 2007 page-a-day calendar for this year. The 2010 edition simply takes puzzles that were actually published in the NYT in the past. You'd think it would go chronologically and I'd be basically doing the entire 2007 library of puzzles, but no; apparently these puzzles jump back to 2006 about halfway through the year.

Behind the awesomeness that is Sarah, you can see what resembles a clean living room. That's because my apartment is finally clean! This means that you'll soon be getting the after-I've-moved-in pictures I promised a long, long time ago. And no, I won't be lame and post one a day for a couple of weeks to cover for the time when I have "nothing else" to post -- you will get them en masse, so that you can have fun mentally putting them all together like a puzzle to form the image that is my humble abode.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

oh, ten

So. Hi, blog.

It's been a while since I've talked to you about anything other than math. I'm sorry about that. As it turns out, grad school eats souls. Its gaping maw devoured any free time I otherwise would have devoted to keeping my readers enthralled with stories of how freaking busy I was all semester long.

But in the tradition of New Years' and all that goes along with it*, I figured I would resurrect the blog and maybe let y'all devoted followers (I believe there are four of you? Good show!) know how I'm doing, what I'm up to, and any craaaaazy thoughts and ideas I might be having.

* Let it be known that I don't actually believe in New Years' resolutions, or the celebration of New Years' Day in general. (Actually, I could expand this into a whole post of its own, so I'll stop short of describing exactly why I feel this way... for now.) It's just a very convenient excuse for me to be resurrection the blog at this particular time, so I'll roll with it.

I believe the first thing I'm going to do is start posting pictures every so often. I doubt I'll be able to expand it into a full Project 365 as I was originally intending -- let's face it, folks, my life ain't interesting enough to be posting a new picture every day -- but hopefully I can be a little more interesting than what you've gotten so far. Not that the math stuff wasn't interesting (I actually came to like that technology course), but it's interesting for a certain audience. I know those of you out there who would sooner sign up for an unnecessary root canal than ponder math on your free time.

Being that it's now 2010, if I do manage to expand this into a Project 365, I figure January 1st is a good place to start. (I know it's January 2nd now. Hush. The picture was taken on January 1st and that's what's [mildly] important.) Somewhat fitting that the first picture on this blog in 2010 is my first meal in 2010, a feast of epic proportions.

In hindsight, I probably should've taken the top off of the hotcakes and sausage, to give the full effect. (Say what you will about me being generic; hotcakes are freaking delicious. That alone could be another blog post, too. Endless possibilities now that I have free time again!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Math 512, Blog Post #3

I spoke a little in class about what I'd do if I had a million dollars to spend on improving a school district, but I never did post those thoughts here. Allow me to correct that.

In class, I'd said that if mathematics was never specified, I don't think I'd be able to justify spending the million dollars only on improving mathematics education. Especially in the more urban areas of New Jersey, there's just far too much disrepair to ignore the option of spending money on improving the physical structure of school buildings. When doors and windows are broken, hallways have leaks and bathroom stalls are missing doors, there are problems much larger than the state of math textbooks or a lack of SmartBoards in each room.

Of course, in newer and more affluent districts, problems like these wouldn't arise nearly as often. That's why I posited the idea of, at the upper end of the spectrum, purchasing an electronic book reader such as the Amazon Kindle for each student. In class, I gave the excuse that it eases the burden on the students' backpacks; in reality, it also eases the burden on the schools' budgets. Purchasing an electronic textbook license will cost much less on the whole than to purchase a completely new set of textbooks each time a newer edition of a math or science book is released. The electronic readers themselves can then be returned to the school after a student has completed high school and loaned anew to the incoming freshmen.

That said, I have to agree with my classmates who came up with the idea of using the money to hire additional teachers. Classroom sizes continue to spiral out of control, not only increasing the student-to-teacher ratio but also forcing teachers to work more than ever before, both in terms of class coverage and grading. With more teachers, it opens up the possibility for more prep periods to be spent on teacher collaboration rather than teacher relaxation. (Not that relaxation is bad, mind you, but it's not the entire point of having the prep.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Math 512, Blog Post #2

So, calculators.

Let me begin by saying that I love my TI-83+ with all my heart. We've been through a lot together -- the SAT four times over, the Calc AP test, the GRE, and oh yes, my entire undergraduate career in the sciences. I credit it for keeping me sane in high school chemistry, both with the molar mass program I wrote to easily calculate the mass of any carbohydrate and with the 5-card-stud poker program I used to zone out of particular easy lectures. After 9 wonderful years, the poor thing is showing signs of being on its last legs; I am devastated in the same manner as a small child whose favorite toy has broken. So strong is my devotion to the 83+ that, when it comes time to purchase a replacement, I would eschew the [admittedly much sexier] TI-89 without a second thought if I was certain that the students I will eventually teach would still be using the now-comparably-ancient 83+.

And I don't think they should be used in a classroom.

My view is that calculators should really only be allowed in class for tasks that would waste inordinate amounts of time and paper otherwise, such as basic operations on large numbers (e.g. 674.5 times 325.2). Allowing them for use in all scenarios causes students to rely on them too heavily, to the point where "obvious" math problems such as 12/1 or 15x0 cannot be seen without the aid of a liquid crystal display. Concepts like this are central to an understanding of math, and while the calculator is just one of many tools for solving a problem, it does little to aid the understanding.

The issue that I come across is that my personal rapport with the 83+ comes from years of experience and an innate knowledge of how I need to input any particular expression. Say, for example, that you wished to find the square of -2. On the scientific model TI-30, you input the 2 first, then press the negative sign, then hit the x² key (or x^y, then 2, then enter). However, on an 83+, it's a different beast entirely: open parenthesis, negative sign, 2, close parenthesis, x² key (or ^2). Without this exact combination of keys, odds are good that you will be getting -4 as your answer.

And many students will submit -4 as their answer without a second thought, since they are certain that the calculator will always find the correct answer. It has no reason to lie. This blind trust is the great tragedy of calculator usage. The calculator will always do the math perfectly, but it requires that the user also be perfect with the input of the question. To this end, teachers must devote entire blocks of time to the instruction on how to input the expression into a calculator, rather than focusing the discussion on why the answer comes out the way it does.

I understand that calculators, like the algorithms we use to solve expressions, are merely tools that humans use in order to definitively calculate the relationships between numbers. My issue comes with the fact that the calculator is a tool which requires that the user master it first before the user can move on to mastering the skill it is supposed to help with. (The issue is compounded further if a student replaces their calculator with another model, forcing them to develop the skill set of proper calculator usage all over again.)

For understanding things like zeroes of a function, maxima and minima, and other tools which are useful when seen graphed in the context of an algebra-2-and-higher setting, I agree that calculators can be a great help in furthering knowledge. Essentially, I suppose this means that I am a fan of calculators when they're not being used as calculators, and instead as things such as graphing or trigonometric tools. Until then, I don't feel that the use of calculators in a classroom adds anything to the student's basic understanding of math. It may save the student time, but it also saves them from having to think about what is truly being done.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Math 512, Blog Post #1

My name is Mike Hergenhan, and of the three Michaels in the class, I suppose I'll specify myself as the blonde one. I finished undergrad in 2007 with a degree in chemistry. Halfway through my senior year, I realized I'd made an egregious error in switching away from math in the first place. Two years and five undergrad math courses later, here I am pursuing my grad degree in math education.

I believe that I'm the only person in the course without any classroom teaching experience, either past or present. While I do currently work in the basic skills lab at Montclair, that's really more of a tutoring gig than teaching. I do, however, have some knowledge of the technology implemented in math classrooms -- I worked for five years as an IT technician in the Linden school district. Many of the programs and websites brought up in the first class, such as Geometer Sketchpad and Study Island, are staples of Linden's curriculum.

I will admit that my opinion towards technology in the math classroom is that of reservation. My high school calculus teacher, who is my inspiration for wanting to teach, taught his lesson plan straight out of handwritten notebooks. The most technology we ever used in the class was a graphing calculator. He was universally praised by my classmates as being a wonderful teacher and presenting the material more clearly than anyone we'd had previously or we've had since. If a standard lecture methodology (when planned properly) can accomplish its task so easily, I see no need to add extraneous technologies to the mix.

And, admittedly, my opinion of technologies as "extraneous" comes from my experiences with them. From what I saw in my home district, a technology-based curriculum was rarely implemented because of the opinion that it would a better job than the lecture-based alternative. Mostly, adding technology was done for the sake of having it.

I'm hoping that this course breaks me of my aspersions towards technology in the math classroom. Seeing technology used effectively in a math curriculum could go a long way towards helping me determine how much I would use advanced technologies in an actual lesson plan.

Until then, though, I intend to continue to swear by the notebook and the occasional TI-83+.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Return from hiatus

Has it really been a month? No wonder my previous attempts at keeping an online journal (of sorts) have gone so poorly -- I truly had no idea it had been that long since my last update. For those of you who are interested, I'll bring you up to speed fairly quickly.
  • The cottage thing didn't work out. Most of that could have to do with the fact that I never received a call back from the landlord (or any other landlords I contacted through my rental service). I suppose that's fine; I didn't want to inquire about extra cottage insurance anyway.
  • In my search through the areas surrounding Montclair, I managed to come across a diamond in the rough. Well, if you can call this area rough at all. I'm now living in Cedar Grove, NJ, three miles west of campus, in a one-bedroom apartment with so much space that I don't know what to do with it all.
  • Work and classes have both started, and I'm thus on a very grown-up schedule of going to bed by 11:30 PM and waking up before 7 AM. I'm loving all of it so far (except parking at Montclair, which can get to be a bit of a zoo during peak hours), even though it's meant I've had limited time and energy to finish unpacking all of my things.
Sadly, that short list does pretty much bring you completely up to speed on my life. The move and start of classes have pretty well taken over the past month. As things slow down as I get comfortable with my schedule, I hope to begin posting more of those tangents that I spoke of, topics I'd like to share with everyone. Actually, that segues nicely into an announcement about some additional blog content from here on out.

One of the requirements of my first graduate course, Technology in the Middle Grades Mathematics Curriculum, is to create or maintain a blog. The blog posts I'll be making with the label "tech curriculum" will be examples of this -- comments regarding certain questions in the field of technology in math education. While they do serve mostly as a discussion for other students in the course, I would quite truly be interested in hearing what the rest of you have to say on the subject, either in response to my outlook on the topic or to any of the comments left on the posts. (All I ask is that we avoid flame wars should people disagree heavily on a subject. We're all friends here.)

And if nothing else, needing to maintain the blog for the purposes of the class will help me maintain the blog for purposes of entertaining the rest of you.