Monday, March 21, 2011

Pi, Kids, and a Case of Diminishing Hair

Were I not a perfectionist, perhaps I could have managed a "decent" shave with my left hand in a cast. But without being able to stretch my facial skin like I usually do, it wasn't worth it for me to risk a botched job. So I let the beard grow. And then when I got the cast off, I realized how nice it was to have that extra seven minutes a day that I usually dedicate to shaving, and so I just let it keep growing for awhile. But eventually, it began to feel like clutter (kind of like it feels freeing to let the dishes pile up by the sink for a couple days, but eventually you just need to clear up some counter space) and so I gave it the axe.

Slowly, of course. One doesn't go through that much collecting of anything without reaping some kind of benefits. Mine was experimenting with looks from throughout history.

This look below, incidentally, is slated for the 2020's just in case you were wondering why you didn't recognize it. I call it the "peace touch."

One topic I've kind of glossed over in the blog is my studies (quick grammatical note for those who care: notice how the previous sentence has a singular subject and a plural object? Have you ever wondered how to handle the verb in such cases? Wonder no more; it conjugates with the subject.) I'm 10 weeks away from my master's degree now and I've hardly mentioned what it is that I actually study.

The center of my program is mathematics. And with the exception of one course in Numerical Analysis that was more applied, most of this math is theory-based and dances from proof to proof. In each area (e.g. Algebra, Coding Theory, Calculus), we start with some basic definitions and assumptions and then start building up step by step, one theorem at a time. It's always challenging as it undulates between frustration and ecstasy in a reassuringly rational manner. Even the strictest teachers are open to creative proofs of theorems, giving it an edge over some other fields (especially for someone like me who tends not to prefer the conventional approach).
My mathematics core is then balanced by my post-secondary education track, which is gearing me up for my math education PhD that will start in the Fall. Early in the program, this education portion included a hodgepodge of topics I found interesting such as International Poverty in Education, Gifted and Talented Education, and An Overview of Educational Research. This year, however, I have been much more focused on educational statistics and actual research. In terms of research, I spent last summer working on a place-based math education study. In that study, we looked at several rural schools around the country that were using local resources in their math education curriculum. In the fall, I began working on some more quantitative policy-based research for a different professor. Which brings us to this past quarter when I dove into some of my own research (well, actually it is collaborative research with my advisor Bob Klein, but since I've been involved from the ground level, it feels different).
The project is attempting to connect schools and communities through mathematics. Essentially, we will attempt to uncover the mathematics involved in local jobs (which apparently is not the easiest thing to do according to past research) and then shape this mathematics into an experiential curriculum for area schoolchildren. Specifically, we are looking at possibly doing the study at a historic operahouse that puts on concerts, dramas, and other events. Bob and I took a tour of the operahouse recently (shown above); I was impressed by the way they've maintained the original 19th century feel while including modern accomodations. Shown below are the original dressing rooms which are now almost 150 years old.

After checking out the operahouse as a site for our research, Bob gave me a tour of the area. You would think that is something I would have had by now, considering that Joo and I have lived here for almost two years now. One town, which had been famous for pottery, incorporated all sorts of pottery shards and pipes in their buildings. The church below is an example, although I'm not sure the resolution will do justice to the clever building materials it contains.

Another town he took me to was Shawnee. As with many of the towns in this area, it had boomed during the halcyon years of the mining industry, but then faded into a ghost town in more recent decades. The good news is that mounting restoration efforts are striving to breathe new life into both buildings and social activities/events.

I presented the early stages of our research (which mainly consisted of reading lots of books and articles) at our annual math department Pi Day. All the students doing research prepare a simple poster, and everyone is welcome to browse the projects as they munch on Italian pie (pizza) and regular pie.

Speaking of the math department, I do believe I've neglected to include pictures of our office. There are seven of us, all guys. Greg (shown below), Joe, and Frank are PhD students at various points in their education. Sunjit and Santosh represent the Indian subcontinent, although Sunjit does so more mathematically while Santosh does his best to shatter math-geek stereotypes with his weekend endeavors. Dave is perfectly content to be a math geek and is my main co-conspirator on our quarterly Big Bang TV show nights.
Here is my beloved cubicle.
And the intimidating sign that Dave posted in the cubicle hallway.
Here's Dave.
Although he can much more frequently be found in front of my blackboard scribbling out formulas, math jokes, and a random assortment of things that I can't categorize (other than being "a random assortment of things"). If our chuckles get loud enough, Joe usually pops over to watch for a few minutes before shaking his head and returning to his cubicle.
So that's the school update. On the homefront, Joo has just wrapped up her busiest couple months since coming to America three years ago. She took 17 credits this past quarter, but the thing that made her busy was lab hours (see? I demonstrated the grammatical point again). She had to clock in 35 lab hours for one class and 165 for another, in addition to her normal coursework. At one point, I put together a little booster kit for her...
Making her even more busy (but more relaxed at the same time) has been her involvement in the Korean church. She has made some great friends, including the two ladies shown below (although by "shown" I am counting the hand of the second woman in the bottom left corner of the picture). The woman at the top left (Seung Jin) prepared the huge dinner below for us and a couple that was getting ready to move to Oklahoma.

In addition, she has maintained her Sunday School Korean language teaching to the young kids.

Mom and Dad stopped by on their way home from Grandma's birthday party in Harrisonburg (Grandma, if you're reading this, Happy Birthday!!!) Mom brought me her March edition of the Cheez-its for a year birthday gift.

Though I am generally not a procrastinator, I didn't have the energy to type up my final projects for my educational research class with one hand. So, when I got the cast off two weeks before the deadline, I had a rather large pile of stuff to type up. Here I am at 2:00 a.m. the night before all the projects were due.
We celebrated the close of finals week with another Big Bang party. Micah and Ariel were there, as well as Dave (of course), Michael (from Guatemala) and a first-timer Eduardo (from Mexico). We watched several Big Bang episodes, some interesting Youtube clips, and then played Traveller IQ Challenge (trying to pinpoint locations around the globe) and (an online trivia site that Katie Longenecker pointed out to me- thanks Katie!)
The celebration was followed up by a visit from Drew and Roxie. Having learned to crawl, she was much more mobile this time around.
Her trademark "I'm cute" modeling pose.

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