Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care. . . "

Because my posts grossly overrepresent the amount of time I spend with family and friends (who, to their credit, are much more photogenic than a page of statistics equations), it's probably helpful to include a more realistic post now and then. And I just happen to have a rare and wonderful day of down time! So, here we go...

My courses are split into four areas: math, math ed, teacher ed, and educational research/evaluation. 

My master's level math courses were mostly pure math - algebra, calculus, coding theory . . . all of which I enjoyed for their challenge. This year, I've focused on statistics - still challenging, but with a better chance of intersecting fields I'm interested in (social justice, cultural studies, place-based education).

Math ed
Studying how people learn math is generally not as intense as digesting the fundamental theorem of finite abelian groups, but it is much more ambiguous (as with anything that deals with the idiosyncrasies of us humans) and rewarding (ditto). Luckily for me, East Asia (my favorite cultural chunk of the globe) is a hot topic in math ed (see the two books below), so I've done most of my papers on math ed in East Asian countries and how it compares with math ed here. 


Teacher ed
Of the four areas, this was the one I had the least experience with coming into the program. I barely have the gall to consider myself a teacher, much less a teacher of teachers. In fact, my first course was one on teacher change, which I struggled with a lot -- the content itself wasn't so difficult, but the idea of trying to change someone (potentially against their will) triggers negative memories of proselytizing. My course on philosophy and psychology of education fit much more naturally with my lifelong goal of understanding people. A similar thing can be said of my current course on organizations (looking at organization through four frames: structural, political, relational, and symbolic).

Educational research
This area has been my guilty pleasure. I can't get enough of digging deeper and deeper into qualitative and quantitative research methods. If I thought that this would line up better with my overall career goals, I would probably have gone for my PhD in this area. Now that I've had several foundational courses in both qual and quant, I'm in my first seminar class where we take all the tools we've acquired and hash out the nitty gritty of actual studies. 

ABLE (Adult Basic and Literacy Education)
After I finished up my three-quarter assistantship with the Boat of Knowledge, I took an assistantship with the literacy center here at OU. My main responsibility has been to work on a math pilot program for Ohio ABLE teachers - in winter quarter, this meant designing a curriculum for upper-level ABLE students. Since adult learners have a substantial edge over K-12 students in terms of life experience, this curriculum centered on contexts like health, money, and activities around the house. Now that  the curriculum is being implemented, my focus is shifting to followups with the pilot teachers and conducting workshops. 

Like statistics education, ABLE has been another wonderful opportunity for me to synthesize the life paths of my head and my heart. Hmmm... to be candid, that statement is true, but it downplays all the frustration, confusion, and skepticism I've wrestled with in trying to build a consistent life path. 

(Click HERE for some mood music; an appropriate song that was playing when I wrote this next part.)

Somehow, I need to honor the past three years of academic knowledge without forgetting what I witnessed in the raw basics of life that I experienced in my travels around Asia and Latin America (or even the streets of Philly for that matter). I still find more wisdom and truth in the Eyes of the people I've met in my travels than in the erudite words of academic publications (Significantly more, in fact. p < .05). On the other hand, I obviously value higher education, or I wouldn't have invested so much of myself in this program. But can I really improve the quality of life for the people behind those Eyes through research and instruction? (note that I am not asking whether it can be done, I'm asking whether I can do it). And what does it mean to improve their quality of life? I'm surrounded by people (including myself) rushing around to complete piles of paperwork, answer a deluge of emails, apply for grants, and meet deadlines. Are we on the right track? I think of Frankie (a homeless guy in Philly who spent most of his time reading, smiling at the sky, or singing on a park bench), or of Soletzanah (my "mom" in the Khandmal district of India who spent most of every day surrounded by friends and family members - harvesting tumeric, cooking rice porridge, walking to the market), or of Shiva (a farmer in the mountains of Nepal who runs a rustic school for local children, and who enjoys several salty chais every day to the backdrop of the majestic Himalayas). "Help" these people? To be fair, Frankie has AIDS (if he's still alive), Soletzanah's home was torched in a massacre, and Shiva is sandwiched between warring political factions. And I might add that some members of my home church funded the reconstruction of Soletzanah's home, so that was a very real case of improving the quality of their life (and are sponsoring the five daughters with an education, so they can transcend the dowry system). So, it's a complicated struggle, but a necessary one (for me). I could continue, but I have those aforementioned piles of paperwork looming. 

Anyway, ABLE's been good for me, mostly because of the incredible staff that I have the privilege of working with there.

Rural and Community Trust
I got involved with this group almost two years ago and have loved every moment of it. My work has centered on quantitative data on two projects so far: Why Rural Matters and the Title I funding formula. Why Rural Matters (click HERE to see the 2011-12 report) gives some user-friendly graphs, stats, and narratives about the condition of rural areas in each of the 50 states. The Title I funding formula decides how federal money gets distributed to schools across the U.S. Currently, there is a weighting of the formula towards students in large schools (regardless of their SES), and the Trust is working on shifting this weighting towards schools with high levels of poverty instead. The work culminated in the All Children are Equal Act, which was recently defeated in the House, so it's back to the drawing board.

Senior Year Textbook
I am part of a team with two professors and a high school teacher who are writing a fourth-year high school textbook. The basic gist of the book is to offer a high-cognitive alternative for college bound students as an alternative to the calculus route (which is really only needed by less than 10% of graduating seniors). It covers a wide range of areas including number theory, statistics, and modeling. This year the course is in its pilot test stage (a handful of high schools in a tri-state area), and next year we move to a field test stage (more high schools; let me know if you're interested!). The experience has been drastically different from my teaching style that relies heavily on spontaneity and rapport with students. 

Placement Tests
I just finished designing a series of three math placement tests for Ohio University that will soon replace the current system. Assessment gets a lot of bad press, and rightly so; inevitably, it gets interpreted beyond what it is intended for. However, it also serves a necessary function in helping large systems to function smoothly. As I created the tests, I tried to recall all my memories of when I've heard (or felt) about tests being unfair, and did my best to remain sensitive to these concerns (for example, many international students stumble on the long wording in questions, so I tried to hone in on the mathematical concepts directly). I also was fortunate to have access to some experienced testing gurus, who let me in on new perspectives I had never considered before. 

Actuarial Studies
In my statistics classes, I'm surrounded by actuarial students. To be honest, I didn't even know what an actuary was until about a year ago or so (they calculate risk - think insurance, annuities, "Along Comes Polly"). I spent my winter break studying for the first standardized actuarial exam and passed it in January - it was mostly because I'm so excited about statistics these days and so I wanted to make sure I'm qualified to teach future actuarial students at some point. Of course, this had the side effect of infecting my thoughts with probability distributions on all kinds of events (e.g., these eggs are three days past their expiration date and so I should have less than a 3% chance of getting sick if I assume an exponential distribution on ...)

Roeper Review
The Roeper Review is a journal on gifted education. I've been part of a small team working on an article about how mathematics talent is distributed throughout locales. My job has been to work with the data analysis section. I spent a lot more time on it than I thought I would - it was quite humbling actually, to have taken so many statistics classes and still be so overwhelmed with all the twists and turns of analyzing actual data (and it was even a relatively simple analysis). Speaking of this enormous gap between what's taught in university courses and what's actually practiced in the real world, I've been picking away at a book by Donald Schon called "Educating the Reflective Practitioner." For me, it's been one of those books where I keep thinking, "YES! That's exactly what I've been experiencing, but I didn't quite know how to phrase it!" 

Youth Group
There are five youth, ranging from ages 9 to 17, with a skew towards that younger end. Most of our time together is on Sunday afternoons, although there is an occasional event. We've been going through some books that I think were by a Mennonite publisher in the 1990s - the past three units have been on misperceptions of the Bible, joy (and suffering), and friendships.

Obviously not part of our time, in general, but it did take up quite a bit recently. Although, I was very lucky to have JooYeon do most of our taxes for the first time this year (it gets complicated with international tax treaties). I also discovered, to my chagrin, that I had not been filing all of my required taxes in past years. I had only done federal, state, and school district, but I found out this year that we also need to file city taxes separately, so I took a painful trip down to the city building and settled up on three years of back taxes (thankfully, the auditor was very kind and rewarded the fact that we had taken the initiative by slicing off several hundreds of dollars worth of penalties).

Friends and Family
And of course, even in a realistic portrayal of my life these days, there are times with friends and family. Drew has made major improvements on their cabin; I go down there every now and then to see what he's up to. The best recent adventure was making two countertops out of a special concrete mix. I haven't got to see them since they hardened, but I did get to leave a bit of legacy underneath them.

Our location on the Mennonite Highway (33 goes from Goshen, IN to West Liberty, OH to Harrisonburg, VA), we do have the honor of visitors stopping in for the night now and then such as Heather.

And a very occasional time of rich fellowship with locals like B and J (the fellowship is rich, not the locals).

JooYeon x 1.81
Of course, the giant on the horizon is the Baby. We've been psychologically ready for some time now, and materially ready thanks to an outpouring of donated items from friends and relatives, so now it's just a waiting game. Sometimes, I think of the Baby in terms of sacrifice: I have prepared myself for a complete change of life, although I was reassured recently by a mother of three who said, "Just one kid? Oh, that's nothing :)" Mostly though, I'm just so curious to meet her - what kind of combination of JooYeon and I will come out? And what parts will be unique to her that don't come from us at all? How does love for one's own child compare to other kinds of love?

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