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Things I never thought I’d say to my kids September 10, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, teaching.
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There are a million things I never thought I’d say to my kids.  Truth be told, I’ve avoided a lot of them.  Today, however, I found myself telling the older son something I imagine would have made my 17-year-old self would cringe.  Or even hurl.

The older son is taking some classes through correspondence this year, mostly English, to finish up the classes he needs for college admissions.  We’ve managed to do most other things at home, but English was one thing I never bothered with because he’s an avid reader.  And by avid, I mean he devours books like candy.  He’s also done exceptionally well on any sort of standardized testing in this realm.  I didn’t want to waste his time by pushing stuff on him when he was doing pretty well in his own right.

He got his first homework assignment back from one of the classes and was reading it over while we had some lunch.  He gave me this look…the same one you get when someone tells you a joke that you can see the humor in but don’t particularly think it’s all that funny because it’s just weird.  You know what look I mean.

The comments on a couple of the problems were simply horrible.  As in, the teacher had rewritten his answers so that they were entirely dumbed down.  It’s not that these answers were vague or wrong or anything; he chose words that made the point and his answers were succinct.  The rewritten answers were long and meandering but weren’t any more clear.  I called Mike and read the rewritten answers.

“You’re kidding me.”

Sadly, no.

So I found myself saying something that I know I would have never, ever believed in my own youth: “You just need to get through the class and pass it so you can go to college.  College will be better.”

It makes me really sad that my son, who loves language and literature, is going to have to endure a class where he was hoping to be able to think about and discuss literary works on a really grown-up level.  Sadly, it looks like he’s going to have to keep it light for his teacher.  I could only reiterate that this is why I feel that high school is a waste of his time.

Does this make me multilingual? July 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, electromagnetics, engineering, grad school, math, physics, research.
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I began my programming education quite young and have maintained my skills over the years.  I have recently been thinking of documenting some of the various languages and software programs I’ve learned to use, so here is as good a place as any.

  • 4th grade – TI Basic
  • 8th grade – Logo
  • 10th grade – BasicA and Apple Basic (pretty close to the same thing)
  • 12th grade – Fortran and QBasic (these were at the college)

In college:

  • took a class on C and had to learn unix, too
  • learned Maple in a calc course
  • learned matlab for a research project and used it extensively in a numerical analysis course
  • learned mathcad for a physics lab course
  • learned mathematica for intro to differential equations and used that for many other classes

During my MS, I was exposed to half a dozen software packages for computational electromagnetics modeling (half of which are trademarked, so I’m not going to bother listing them).

In the past couple years at work, I’ve gotten pretty handy with Scilab.

After all of this, you would think that I have a pretty complete toolkit.  I should be able to do pretty much whatever I need with what I’ve already learned.  I find it ironic, therefore, that I am back to using Fortran (one of the first things I learned).  I also have been spending the past month trying to learn IDL (which, if you don’t mind me saying, seems like a less friendly version of matlab), so there is something new, again.  Also, I have people pestering me to learn python.

Looking at this list, I’m starting to think I’m learning things so that I can simply forget them again later.  I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten more than I remember.

Desafortunadamente, ich spreche русским nicht. September 3, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in education.

Fluxor, Chris Gammell, and I got into a brief online discussion about learning languages based on Chris’ comments during the last Amp Hour. Chris wants to learn Mandarin because he thinks it may be useful in the coming age of ‘China is taking over everything.’

My background in languages is actually a bit odd for an American. Until I decided to go into physics, which was approximately my junior year of high school, I first wanted to be a linguist. As such, I ended up taking four years of Spanish in high school and two years of German, one in high school and one in college. I also desperately wanted to learn Japanese (at the time, we were living in the age of ‘Japan is taking over everything’) and Russian. Those two classes were offered via satellite and had to be coordinated through the librarian at our school. I’m still convinced she was simply annoyed by the whole thing and basically discouraged everyone from taking it (except me), so the classes were cancelled every year. (She basically brought everyone in on an individual basis and told us that the class was super hard and we wouldn’t really get anywhere. Then she encouraged us to take something else. Seriously.)

I soldiered on and attempted to learn Russian on my own using cassette tapes (ahem) and a text book. Later, I also gave Chinese a try with Rosetta Stone.

The end result was that I was a decently polished Spanish speaker, a barely passable German speaker, learned a bit of basic Russian, and never got anywhere with Chinese.

From my personal experience, I am totally convinced that the best way to learn a language is either in a classroom or with a tutor. I think that you’ll learn faster if you’re able to supplement with additional resources. Part of my ability to learn Spanish was that my Spanish teacher had a resource room full of videos, computer programs, and magazines that I was able to utilize after school. I went up to the room several times a week. My Spanish teacher told me that he never gave perfect scores, but the year I went, he gave them to me and one other person. The other person, incidentally, had spent several summers attending immersion programs. So while I think immersion programs are probably an extremely good way to learn a language, I don’t think they’re absolutely necessary to become a passable speaker.

I don’t advocate using tapes, books, or programs as a sole source for learning languages. You may become a decent reader of the language, but you really need feedback from an experienced speaker to speak with any level of proficiency. I know that people have raved about Rosetta Stone, but I have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s awesome as a supplementary learning tool, but I tried learning Chinese with no prior knowledge of the language and was rather dissatisfied. It was simply too confusing to be of any use. I learned more Chinese in the three months that my son was being tutored by a friend’s daughter than I did attempting Rosetta Stone for a similar amount of time. I think that the reason was that there is little constructive feedback. I get an answer wrong, but the program never told me the correct answer. I found this incredibly frustrating. When interacting with a tutor, I get the correct answer along with an explanation why it is correct.

At some level, the best way to learn a language is probably to live in the culture. I personally think the two are essentially tied together. Until then, you’ll only have a cerebral understanding. Second best, however, is learning from someone who knows and can explain it well.


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