Friday, May 20, 2011

Where's the Math?

"Where's the Math?" is the name of a research project I have been doing with my advisor Bob Klein over the last several months. We probably should have named it, "Where's the data?" as we have had rather limited success in arranging interviews. In any case, the idea is good; using mathematics as a medium to connect schoolchildren with their community (for both their present and their future). I entered the Student Expo a few weeks ago as part of my enter-as-many-contests-as-possible binge to see if I could rope in a few more spare dollars for the budget. And of course garner some more experience with presentations.

The student response was bittersweet, as summed up by the high-school guy who walked by the poster and muttered to his friends, "Where's the math? It's sure not in MY head!"

The judges, thankfully, looked on the project more favorably and I was able to indeed earn some spare cash. Which was a good thing because, around the same time, Joo and I went in for a checkup just to see if there was anything we should be testing/doing before getting pregnant. Despite having insurance, we received three separate bills for the checkup, each one amounting to almost $200. I was frustrated with the experience and Joo was livid. But I wasn't quite sure where to place my anger; the medical center had provided the services they were supposed to; the insurance company had paid the appropriate money according to our plan; capitalism had set the prices for everything according to supply and demand.

Nevertheless, it was aggravating. We spend so much time/energy budgeting pennies and calculating the costs of various options to save a dollar wherever possible. And then, all of a sudden, $500 flew out the window. Had we known how much the checkup would cost, we never would have done it, but it's not like the grocery store where you can see the per-item price before the purchase. Maybe setting up such a system would be a project for the future... although weighing such decisions on the spot might prove to be a challenging test of priorities.

Anyway, back to the Expo. Here are some of the other math presenters - Bismarc, Ben, and Mason. Ben is one of the other two math students on the Boat of Knowledge project I've been working on.

So, speaking of that boat, here are some pictures from our first expedition out on the Ohio River. This was mostly a trial run to get us used to the water sampling procedures before we actually go out on the river with students. There are four or five schools in our cohort of the program, each with two high school teachers and two grad students (one math and one science in each group for the most part). Then there are a couple education professors, a science professor, and a mathematics professor in addition to the boating crew.

There are several objectives of the program. One is to promote collaboration between disciplines and between educational levels. Another is to make classroom content more relevant by studying issues that are affecting the communities of the students. A third is to do some grad-level research on the water quality/ecosystems. All three of these align well with why I'm entering math education, but all three are also fairly new to me in terms of experience so I'm being flooded with information (luckily, the boat is not).

Alex (in the blue-striped shirt below), my co-teacher, is a math teacher down at South Point High School in the southernmost tip of Ohio. It's a two-hour drive down there for me each week, but well worth it to get in the high school classrooms and remind myself how different they are from the college classes I've been teaching. Alex is a good match for me also: laidback, witty, and technologically savvy.

My role in the lab shown below was recording different quantities. It was rather amazing that they trusted me with the job considering my group presentation a couple weeks ago in which I correctly explained all the higher level math but incorrectly added six single-digit numbers. Oops!

As of now, it looks like I'll be working on three projects this summer. The first will be the Boat of Knowledge - developing a user-friendly interface for a water quality index and some curriculum for a new Statistics class in the fall at South Point. The second will be a bi-annual overview of rural conditions/statistics in each state (to see the 2009 edition and some quick facts about rural demographics in your state, click HERE). The third is still in the preliminary phases, so more on that later. And yes, there was a wedding in the family... that will be coming up in the next blog!

As the Bee Flies

Try the following. List out the things you've pursued most over the past year. Then make them into a little sketch and relate them to each other. For example, maybe I spent several months studying for an educational statistics class. I wanted to learn the material to understand more of the world around me, but I also wanted to get an A. The reason I wanted to get an A was partly out of self-value, partly because it contributed to my goal of getting a master's degree, and partly to nurture a relationship with the professor. I want to get the master's degree because I want to get a job teaching math. That job will partly be to fulfill my desire to make an impact on the community/students, but also to earn money to maintain my relationship with JooYeon. Etc.

After you sort out the tangled mess, do your underlying goals seem to synchronize well or do they diverge in contradictory directions? Are you a crow, flying in a rather linear path (I'm calling upon the old saying here; I don't really know if crows fly straight) or are you a bee, zipping all over the place? Or maybe a cricket player undulating back and forth between two main points? Or perhaps a stone who is not pursuing any goals?

I think I have been a bee, at least for the past 7 or 8 years, and with the caveat that my flying radius has been quite short since JooYeon and I moved to Athens. My paths from hour to hour seem chaotic, and yet, at the same time, it feels like I'm acquiring pollen and depositing it in the places it needs to go to cause things to blossom.

So, enough analogies. Drew and Laura came up for another visit recently. Since Drew had become hooked on sushi when he was in the air force but hasn't had much opportunity to eat any around here recently, Joo led us in rolling some kimbap.

The end result was a beautiful mountain of rice and seaweed...

Roxy crawled around looking for TaeGeom, but alas, he had already flown back to the west coast. Jusu and SangOk are still planning to head to Korea, although the legal paperwork turns out to be a bit more complicated than they originally thought so they are sorting through all that now.

I celebrated a wonderful birthday, receiving a slew of unexpected hellos on Facebook from all the corners of my past. Bob sent some silly string, streamers, and a music box along with Heather who spent a night with us. Joo had never seen silly string, so that was rather fun to introduce her to it until she got ahold of the can.

In the afternoon, I received a call from Joe who had baked me a birthday cake. It was perfect weather to just sit out on the front porch for a couple hours and hang out while munching on the cake. Since I'm doing the Boat of Knowledge research assistantship (more on that in the next blog), I haven't been around the office much and so I've felt kind of separated from the math men of 564 (the 7 of us who have our cubicles in the same office in the math department).

So, it's a bee's life for me for now; and I'm quite happy with that. :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mute Dating

During SangOk and Jusu's final week with us, TaeGeom had the pleasure of being introduced to an older woman (granted Roxie is only one month older than him, but proportionally, he's only 87% of her age). Luckily, what TaeGeom lacked in age, he made up for in mass so that they could relate as equals.
It was fun for everyone to see some cultural differences in childrearing. Of course, some of these differences were probably limited to the particular families, but one that is certainly pronounced is the concept of leaving a child alone. The only time TaeGeom is ever alone is during nap times and even then, Jusu has a video monitor she uses to keep constant watch. At night, she sleeps beside him. While TaeGeom may eventually get his own bed, he will likely sleep together in the same room with his parents for the next several years. Some Koreans I've talked with feel that American children become calloused, independent, and more detached from family (as they enter teenage years and adulthood) because they often begin sleeping in a separate room as a toddler or even before.

Most of the second half of Jusu and SangOk's stay was a tad gloomy, meteorologically and emotionally. Each one of the four of us had, to some degree, some worries about the future we were processing. Job and living uncertainty, faith questions, relational issues, etc. While this meant that the mood wasn't always the most optimistic, it did inspire lots of impromptu discussions. And on the occasions when the sun (the literal and the figurative one) did come out, we took full advantage of it.

We particularly enjoyed the blossoming flowers and trees all around us. When it wasn't raining, Athens was a biological kaleidoscope. One of the SangOk and Jusu's living options for the future would be to come out to Athens for awhile and so we made sure to give them the full tour. We tried to highlight some of the romantic nature Athens has to offer.

Even though they were here for only three weeks, SangOk and Jusu both had their birthdays during that time frame so we did a lot of celebrating. For Jusu's birthday, we went to an eclectic little restaurant called Purple Chopsticks. Perhaps the m0st interesting part of the restaurant (which I unfortunately did a horrible job of capturing on camera) is the decor, most of which was done by an organization that draws out the artistic talents of handicapped people in the area.

For SangOk's birthday, Joo took them into Hocking College while I was at work to bake a triple-layered chocolate cake.

I'm not sure what all they included in the cake, but everyone seemed to have a follicular growth spurt soon afterwards. TaeGeom was depressed because he thought he might have been able to make a better impression on Roxie now that his bald spot had vanished.

I received my final monthly Cheezit shipment from Mom in the mail, this one with a gardening theme. Although I think I've put pictures of several of the ones she made on the blog, I was lamenting the fact that I didn't have pictures of all of them to make a collage. Mom pointed out that for the first three months, I was completely fooled into thinking that this was a special marketing strategy that Cheezit had introduced. To my credit, the first ones weren't quite as elaborate as the one below.

When it came time for SangOk, Jusu, and TaeGeom to say goodbye (or simply gurgle goodbye in TaeGeom's case), we drove to Columbus. It was a 4:30 am drive and none of us are morning people so the hugs were a bit sleepy, but at least they were heartfelt. The house certainly felt quiet when we returned, although we won't spend too much time missing them since we are planning to meet up again in Korea here in a few short weeks.

One completely separate point to mention is that Joo had the honor of receiving a JOMc Endowment Scholarship. Out of the 6,000 students at Hocking College, 20 are chosen each year from across all majors. The recipients are selected based on professor recommendations, two essays, and scholastic/extra-curricular leadership. Making the honor even more special was the fact that scholarships are quite rare in Korea and so this was Joo's first actual scholarship. Congratulations lovey :)

TaeGeom comes to Town

Looking a bit like Michelangelo's Adam (but with more success), TaeGeom was welcomed by an overeager aunt and uncle (Joo and me) when he rolled into Athens. SangOk and Jusu were gearing up to leave Los Angeles and head across the sea to South Korea to live and so they blessed us with a goodbye visit for a couple weeks.

Jusu must have been working quite hard taking care of TaeGeom as the picture below shows her confusion in remembering which mouth to feed. (Just kidding!)

TaeGeom certainly seems to be a happy boy and we were delighted to see him start crawling during their stay (of course, getting away from Uncle Daniel and "the Big Black Bear" would have motivated any baby to crawl). He had also grown considerably from when he was born (he was a premie baby, but is now in the 99th percentile for weight among babies his age).

As this was the first time either Joo or I had seen our nephew, he certainly received his share of pampering ranging from personal fan attendants to massages and belly rides.

The first week of SangOk and Jusu's stay was deceptively pleasant for an Athenian April. Thankfully, we took full advantage of it and made it out on lots of walks and even a picnic.

I had just finished reading a book about a linguist who went to live with an Amazonian tribe for most of his life (Don't Sleep, there are Snakes). The author had started out as a missionary but ended up getting converted to their way of life instead. One of the interesting aspects of the tribe's culture was that they treated babies as adults, even allowing them to play with knives or crawl towards fires. The logic was that the Amazon is a tough place to survive and that allowing babies to make their own mistakes was sort of a survival of the fittest test. While we didn't give TaeGeom the Amazonian treatment, I did let him try on some of my clothes.

JooYeon and Jusu were delighted to spend some time together again. They chatted away non-stop whenever Jusu wasn't absorbed in the babycam (a video monitor to watch TaeGeom as he sleeps). JooYeon gave Jusu some cooking lessons and Jusu did some more of the lovely art that already decorates most corners of our house.

Having felt a bit hawjeonhae after Kiwi and Gyu left 9 months ago, I was glad to have another guy around the house for awhile to talk with, exercise with, and just hang out with. I had met SangOk twice before for brief periods of time, but this was my first opportunity to really spend some quality time together.

As SangOk is at a transitional time in his life (he hasn't been back to Korea ever since he left about 25 years ago), there was plenty of fodder for reflective discussions. As Joo helped him build his resume, it turned out that he has had a wide array of jobs and life experiences (medical field, coffee shop owner, and many more).

Since TaeGeom really should be choosing his own career path before long, JooYeon tried to recruit him to the culinary arts field. Although he looks like a natural in the chef's cap, he still hasn't made a final decision yet (obviously he's nothing like his Uncle Dan who knew precisely what he wanted to do all along).