Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The new math

There is that old joke that Algebra could one day save your life. With my imagination, as a student I'd daydream of a situation where a bomb was going to blow up unless I solved this complex equation using all sorts of letters and symbols. How that would keep a bomb from blowing up, I'm not sure. The honest fact is that unless you use something on a regular basis, you tend to forget it. Some may say this is a perfect argument for not getting an education--that most things you learn, you won't use. I'll say that is somewhat of a valid point, with one major exception: 

Learning helps you learn to learn.

Granted, that may seem like the most obvious statement in the world. But stuff is changing around us so much, we are constantly having to learn new things.

At BYU, I learned how to direct TV programs. At the time, we used the latest technology. We had this big video switcher that looked like the control board on the Death Star.
It had lots of buttons and levers and dials and such. Over time, technology change--things became more computer based. This last summer, we went back to Utah for a visit. One place we stopped by was BYU. We found the old studio where I spent so many hours. It was stripped bare. I have no doubt that all that equipment was replaced by the newest technology somewhere else on campus.

So, what was the point of me learning something that would change? Well, for starters, the concepts behind directing haven't really changed. The correct video still needs to be played at the right moment. The anchors need to know which camera to look at and when. The director needs the ability to multitask while several people are talking to him or her at the same time. In other words, the human elements haven't changed.

But in addition, learning how all that equipment worked helped me develop the strategies and habits to be able to become proficient at something new. When the technology changed, I'd have to learn how to use it, but, I had already developed the skills on how to learn.

To me, that is the single biggest thing someone can learn from getting an education--on any level.
Right now, I'm learning how to be a better writer. It's not all about spelling, (though in my third book I used the word 'alter' instead of 'altar' to describe an item in a church--thank goodness it is still in the editing stages!) but it is also about pacing, character development, setting, point of view, and the list goes on and on. It may sound strange, but a lot of the skills I learned in becoming a TV director, I'm using now as I learn to become a better writer.

Back to the whole point of learning math that may save your life one day. My oldest daughter (who is freakin' awesome by-the-way) is a Freshman in High School this year. She brought home her first math homework a few days ago. There was one question that they hadn't gone over in class, and she wasn't sure how to do it. She asked for my help. The question was this: 7 people meet and shake hands, how many handshakes occur? Also, what is the formula for number of handshakes if the number of people is "n"?

I was stupefied. I seriously sat there for an hour trying to figure it out. No luck. I finally posted the question on Facebook. The answer? nCr = n! / (r! * (n - r)!) Where "n" is the number of people, "r" is the number of people required to do a handshake (in this case "2") and the big letter "C" there means constant or something else that makes it really confusing.

What the heck is "n!"? I must have learned that at some point in time, but heck if I remember--because I don't use it. I told my daughter to see what answer the teacher wanted once they went over the assignment. The answer? "Oh! I didn't expect any of you to get the answer because I haven't taught you how to do it yet."

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