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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Uncommon commonalities

Monday came too quickly this week after studying pretty much all weekend long. My first homework of the semester was due on Monday - some practice questions for extra credit in Biology. They were over Dimensional Analysis, a way of converting from one unit to another that involves the metric system. I love it and wish I'd known about it in high school. It's entirely possible I was taught it then. :D

As I arrived on campus and saw stressed classmates in the study and help areas, it became clear that there are different levels of students. It seems that most of them hadn't given themselves enough time to do the work, and didn't understand what they were doing. I was really surprised that nearly everyone I spoke to said they only did 3 or 4 of the 12-problem assignment. And then as we were about to turn in the work, I saw people hurriedly copying things they forgot to do because they hadn't read the instructions well (show work in pencil on another sheet of paper) when the teacher re-iterated them just before turn-in. In contrast, I felt like a geek for being prepared - 3 pages of clearly shown work on 12 problems, answers boxed, etc, ready to go when I walked in. I also felt smart. And I'm just surprised at the seeming general level of unpreparedness. Maybe I really am from another planet. Or, as my grandmother often asserts - a genius. They really made me look like a genius.

All that aside, I really like the Biology class a lot. The teacher is great - she has a calendar and tells us exactly all the points and grading system and so on which removes all the administrative questions and wondering. She also has a great way of understanding the material and relating that to us in examples, interactive questions, and so on. The lab was a ton of fun even though it was basically working through measurement problems (volume, density, length, weight, etc). Biology is great. I'm learning a lot of really interesting and detailed things that clarify things I thought I knew, but have an inflection I'd not understood before. School rocks.

Chemistry is going to be interesting but it's moving at a slower pace. Tonight, the 3rd night of class we are getting into Atoms. The teacher is more ambiguous about the tests and has an interesting Scottish/Hindu/Asian accent I can't place which sometimes makes it hard to hear terms he's using. "Eelehmens" = "Element". But it's not a huge obstacle. He clearly knows what he's talking about, and he also is teaching me many things about chemistry I sort of knew about that now is becoming more concrete.

Overall, I have the theme of nutrition in mind, though, and I take examples from chemistry and make them nutritious. For example, you can determine units of energy to see how many kilojoules make a 100-watt light bulb run for x hours. I determined you can run a 100-watt lightbulb for 640 hours off of one Big Mac. Converting from kcals to joules, of course. The special sauce = calories. Hehe.

I'm also paying a lot of attention to the assumptions of things as we go through them. I want to make sure that the chemistry I learn and the biology I learn have a meaningful impact on the ultimate education for nutrition - that the reasons for science don't eclipse the benefits for humans. I don't want to get so lost in the science that I forget that humans are really who benefit or lose. In the business world I've seen technology and greed usurp the individual too often. Just because we can figure out how to remove diseases from food through adding chemicals and changing properties doesn't mean we've created a great thing.

So my break is over. It's been a break-neck speed week so far and I am ready to try for some sleep - it's a balance of staving off cedar allergies that are primed to attack when I lay down and getting my mind to slow down.

P.S. Don't heat up hydrogen peroxide. I learned today it explodes spectacularly, despite having only one more oxygen molecule than water (H202 vs H20).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Week 1 done

I'm really looking forward to chemistry lab, and tonight was going to be the first one, but there was no lab because it's the first week of class and they are still organizing and need to train us on safety and stuff. So I got to go home after the lecture tonight; no opportunities to blow shit up. It's probably for the best - I feel like hell. The poor girl next to me in chem lecture kept looking at me as if I might detonate. I kept trying not to cough and was turning red, tearing up. I was terrified I was going to cough and shoot one of the cough drops I had perpetually in my mouth across the room. "Teacher Killed by Fisherman's Friend" - I can see the report now.

So week 1 is officially done. Class at least. I have a lot of studying for Monday. Due on Monday: extra credit work for Biology - Dimensional Analysis problems. I also have to study 15 Latin words for our regular Monday Root Quiz. Each week, 15 more words + 5 words from any prior week.

I only need to read 1 chapter in each class however. This seems alien after having had to cram 3-4 chapters per week in my last class. I sort of distrust it. Speaking of which, I finally found out I got a B in Statistics. Nice way to start college again, especially after that speed of light class.

I think the hard part of my classes will be the memorization (I'm pretty bad at this) and the math because it's not a natural way for me to think. I have to find a way to turn my usual familiar logic into this particularly mathematical way of logic to get through Chem (especially) and Bio. But I'm really looking forward to getting deeper into both classes.

Exhausted. Off to bed. Please let me wake up alive tomorrow, slightly more resistant to cedar. Cedar how I hate thee.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Biology and Chemistry

It's on now. I have now had two classes: Chemistry on Tuesday (lecture), and Biology (lab + lecture) tonight. I am excited! I really like both professors, and I think I'm going to do well. The mean age of the students in class is "fresh out of high school" with a few of us old-timers there trying to learn something new.

And some of it is new. Some of it is common sense. My first homework assignment for Chemistry is to read the first chapter and to learn the metric system. For Biology, it's to not blow anything up in lab and to read the first chapter in the huge book. And to never miss a lab. And to learn the metric system.

One of the coolest things both teachers taught us on the first day is the dimensional analysis method - something I wish I'd learned in my first math class because it would have made my math classes afterward SO much easier. It's a form of factoring out units when converting from one unit to another (like years to seconds as in how many seconds in a year or like how many atoms are in glucose). But it makes doing those calculations almost breathtakingly easy.

I have a Chemistry lab and lecture tomorrow and then homework is on for Monday! Labs start in earnest next week. I'll be spending a lot of time in labs looking in microscopes at extremely small things, and combining elements together to make things "react". This is what all boys live for.

It's a pretty big change, going to school, not just for all the school stuff, but just for getting out of the house for a change. I don't care for the frantic drive TO school as I try to migrate from the day's work efforts to the night's learning efforts. But, the drive home at 9pm is pretty quiet and I pass right by downtown, all lit up and beautiful in only the way a big city can be.

Off to try and get some sleep for once. The mountain cedar has been terrible for both Dawn and I the last few days. I swore left and right this morning I had the flu, but it's merely the agony of cedar fever. It really robs the day of its energy and robs the night of clear sequential sleep.

One positive-ish note. I'm likely going to be losing weight going to school - it creates a large buffer in the midst of the day where I can't really eat, and makes me be more proactive about what I eat. Plus all my classes are on the second and third floors of these tall science and administration buildings that I have to scurry to each night as we move from lecture to lab classrooms. And, ultimately, I will be eating out less because I am busy. All this is good. See, school IS good for you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

29 pounds to go.

What can I say? It's been over a month since I promised to post about school and I've already finished one class. It was a beast of a class.

It's not that I don't like statistics. In fact I found it very interesting and extremely useful in processing information in a more mathematical way. But several things impeded my progress at a smooth learning process.

First, it was an accelerated class - 4 months of learning into 4 weeks. This meant two unit tests per week over 2-3 chapters each (there was a print + online test each week). I'm not gifted with math like my friend Janine (whose repeated pleas for leveling to 80 I have had to sacrifice in favor of higher education despite my better judgment - I can't complain, she has a couple of kids, a husband, a job, is in college for accounting, and she lives in Oklahoma - all difficult things).

So, not being gifted in math, my thought in taking an accelerated math class was to get it done with quickly. I also have work right now and I spend the day working and the evenings (usually until 2-ish studying). In retrospect, I should know that for classes I have trouble with I should take more time rather than less. So the initial problem was my faulty American-centric hurry and do it fast approach. Lesson learned.

My own transgression aside, it went downhill from there. This class was over the holiday, so I was able to take the first two tests of unit 1 after an intense first week. The second week was Christmas, so I studied like crazy around holiday cheer but was unable to take the 2nd written unit test because the college testing center closes with the rest of the college for the week between Christmas and New Year.

Week three was terrible because I was learning week 3 stuff (remember, it was over 3 chapters of unfamiliar mathematical formulas) and studying for week 2 stuff (2 chapters) so I could take the tests. On December 29-30 the primary software system we use for lectures, assignments, and online tests underwent regular maintenance - meaning I couldn't access it. Upon their return on December 31, they had a new bug that caused me and many of my classmates to be able to not save about 1 in 5 assignment or test questions and would freeze the system. I'd have to re-do the problem (this sometimes is a 30-minute calculation ordeal). I finally got the week 2 tests done in the late part of week 3, and crammed hard to get back to week 3 as I went into week 4.

Week 4 saw me taking the week 3 tests and catching up with studying for the last 3 chapters of the book. I took the last two tests Wednesday and Thursday this past week. Class over. Whew. On the last day of class, I got an email from the math software company saying they'd fixed the freezing/can't save answers issue. Frakking software industry. That I am currently part of.

The teacher emailed me today and told me that he hadn't received my 4th written test yet from the downtown test center I took it from, so I will temporarily have a "not complete" until he receives and grades it. So for now I don't know what my grade is. I suspect a B somewhere. (Calculating the weighted average is actually something I can do now, but I need grades to do it. My online score - 26% of my grade - is a 99.4%. My first written test was an 85%. The other grades are unknown).

So tonight I am writing because tomorrow it starts again - this time IN class. I start Chemistry 1 tomorrow evening at a classroom on the Eastfield College campus in NE Dallas. Wednesday starts Biology 1, which is a pre-requisite for Anatomy and Physiology. My weeks get busy, but I'll try to write in between homework, work, and that part of the day where sanity is renewed. I've heard legends say that they call it sleep.

Despite the intensity and drama that it sounds like, it's a lot of fun so far and I can't wait for the next classes to start.