Monday, July 8, 2013

The Vanderbilt Adventure Begins!!!

My room. My side is on the right, his on the left.
Today I woke up at 7, and got dressed. Since I did not get a chance to describe my room in last night's blog, here's my brief description. My room is actually quite nice. When you enter the room, the closets are on the left, and there are towel bars on the right. In front of the door (going from closest to farthest) are my dressers, a desk and then my bed. My roommate's furniture (bed, desk, and dresser) is on the opposite side of the room, creating a mirror image. He has one less dresser, as the closet starts right after his dresser and desk. I really only use the third dresser as a table top to put my stuff on. As it is, I am only using one dresser drawer now. The rest is in the closet. There are electrical outlets on the wall behind each desk, and behind the night stand in between the beds. There are ethernet jacks behind the desks as well. I also noticed a great feature about the door. You can only lock it from the out side if you have a key, or the inside by sliding the deadbolt. This way, you can never lock yourself out of the room, as you are either inside or have the key. This really just makes too much sense. I have heard plenty of stories about college students locking their keys in their rooms, but apparently that can't happen here at Vanderbilt!

We went to a quick proctor meeting at 7:55. The meeting was really just to make sure we were all up, and knew where breakfast was. At 8:00 Hugh (our proctor) lead us to the Dining Commons. Breakfast was great, with every choice you could imagine. And I mean everything: cereal, eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, bread, danishes, fruit, milk, yogurt, and a wide variety of juices. The lines were rather long, as pretty much everyone was led down there at 8 by their proctor. The eating area is huge, and seats at least 200 if you count the balcony. Closer to the door of the dining commons, there are two pool tables and two fuss ball tables. Most of the guys hang out there and play after they eat, and most of the girls hang out and talk on the patio just outside the doors.

Because today was the first day, out TA's were out on the patio to show us where our class was. Fortunately, my class is only 100 feet from the dining commons. Other people have to walk 15 minutes to get to their class. Our class has 12 students, one professor, and one TA. Dawson (the professor, and yes he says to call him that) has an awesome class that not only teaches you math, but helps you strengthen your abilities in three types of math: Puzzles, Independent Study with the textbook, and Class Discussion/Lecture. This is really important for me. I can always strengthen my skills in all of the above, some I need to more than others. Most math classes do not have this many components, and are not challenging enough, but not this one. This is truly a well rounded course, and after the first day, I already know I'm going to love it.

Today was different from any other day, because we had to start with housekeeping issues like our names, and the structure of the class. He gave each of us an index card, and had us write various pieces of information about ourselves (Name, age, grade, hobbies/interests, an interesting fact about us etc.). He then collected the cards and had us share the information. At random points, he would pull someone's card who had already shared, and asked them to tell us about someone else. This made sure we were paying attention. I thought this was a great idea: It kept us alert even after we have shared about us, and helps us remember people's names. After the name cards, he had us create a concept map surrounding the topic "Math." Mine did not turn out that great, as most other people had double the concepts that I had. After that, he handed out the course rubric sheet. For VSA, you do not get a grade, but you do get a rubric evaluation. Things on the rubric included participates and provides evidence for class discussions and effectively working independently. He brought us a very interesting point. We are taking this class because we have not been challenged by our high school math programs. He told us to never be scared to ask questions when the math does become challenging. He said he hopes we will never have an extremely hard math class, but regardless, we need to feel comfortable studying and asking questions. He told a story about his freshman year of college when he was afraid to go to the professors office hours to get help with math. He was afraid that the professor would think he was stupid if he came to ask questions. He had never had to study for math before, so he did not know how. That's what this class is for: To out you out of you comfort zone in order to prepare you for these situations. Next, he introduced the structure of the class. Each day was start with the Puzzler, a math and/or logic puzzle. Today's was a game called "How many pedals around the rose?" It is a dice game, and the main clue he gave us (that he said over and over again) was "The name of the game is pedals around the rose. The name of the game is how you play the game." If you would like to try to solve the puzzle yourself, STOP reading, and follow this link: Return after you figure it out or give up. The answer is revealed below. Good Luck!!

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, it is a dice game. Five dice are rolled. A rose is signified by a dot in the center of the die. Pedals are the dots around it. The outer dots only count as pedals if there is a rose (middle dot.) Therefore, 1, 3, and 5 are roses, and 2, 4, and 6 are not. 1 has not pedals, 3 has 2 pedals and 5 has 4 pedals. You just add up the number of pedals you see, and you have your answer. I got it after the 3rd roll, but Dawson dropped additional hints along the way. Eventually, he asked those of us who got it how many roses were in a 1, 2, 3, 1, 4 roll. One person said 1 rose, another said 3. This was a big hint for the remaining students, as one is technically a rose, but does not contribute to the count. Dawson also mentioned that the number of pedals is always even. This was another big clue. Dawson says he does not like to give away answers, he wants us to work for them. After about 30 minutes of rolling and having students determine the number of pedals, he finally revealed the answer. I really like this style of teaching. If a teacher just puts a puzzle on the board, and does not give any hints, people give up very easily. Also, thinking makes us learn. If he just put the answer on the board after 5 minutes, no one would bother thinking, but just copy the answers off the board. Dawson tries to keep us thinking all the time, so learn as much as we can.

After the Puzzler, he handed out our textbooks (Pre-Cal or Calculus depending on what math course we are taking next year), and independent study sheets. These sheets list the problem numbers we have to complete, and when there are quizzes. (This is a five question quiz after every two sections.) You must pass the quiz with four out of five to move on. If you don't pass the first time, Dawson or Emily will sit down with you, and explain why you missed the problems you did. You can then take another version of the quiz. If you fail the second one too, Dawson and Emily have a serious conversation with you, make sure you get it, and check every problem of the assigned work. The Pre-Calculus (my math level) work starts out with basic trigonometry (converting degrees to radians, and finding arc length.) So far it's just easy review, but I know it will get harder eventually. After Independent Study, we got a 15 minute break to do whatever we wanted: use our phones, go outside, socialize, etc. After break, we had class discussion. Today's topic was Matrices (Singular: Matrix). I'm not going to go into detail about exactly what we learned, as the purpose of my blog is not to teach you math. I will, however, mention the concepts we discussed. We learned the definition of a matrix, how to name the dimensions, adding/subtracting matrices, scalar multiplication, matrix multiplication and the properties thereof, determents of square matrices (with the cofactor and the 3x3 shortcut), inverse matrices, and matrix identities. Keep in mind that we covered all this in just 2 hours. This was very fast paced, but I was able to catch on rather quickly. I took six pages of notes, and learned more in one day than I learned in a whole quarter of a high school math class. (It's not that the high school teachers don't teach, it's that I often already know it and therefore am not learning.) 

We ended up stopping for lunch in the middle of the discussion. On Mondays and Fridays, lunch is at 11:45 instead of 12:00, because we need to be in and out of the dining commons before the prospective Vanderbilt students show up. They also make us eat on the balcony, which is more cramped. The good new is they make better food: Macaroni, salmon, lasagna, pizza etc. On one hand, I like the better food, but being crammed on the balcony was not so fun. During lunch I found Keli'i, and talked to him about his engineering class. He said they had to build a chair for a small bear with only 25 index cards, and 2 feet of tape. The chair had to be at least 18 inches high. His group's was the only one that worked well. Keli'i came up with the design of making a cylinder with two index cards, and taping a flat one on top. Six subassemblies later, they had a chair. I could tell he was having fun, and was glad. Before the trip he had doubts about it, but now he's all smiles. Classes resumed at 12:45, and we continued to discuss matrices. After learning about matrices, we played a game. It was a tournament of rock, paper, scissors. He gave us a blank matrix labeled with out names. We had to put 1 for win and 0 for loss. This matrix represented primary dominance. (who beat who.) We then used our calculators to square the matrix. This resulted in the secondary dominance, which is a "strength of schedule calculation." With the secondary matrix, you can see how many people person A beat that also beat person B. Before this course, I never realized how strength of schedule was calculated, but it all makes lots of sense now. At 3 PM, we transitioned to study hall. This session is run by the TA (Emily). Today, tomorrow and Wednesday, we are spending Study Hall in the computer lab to create a PowerPoint Presentation on a mathematician from the list he gave us. On Thursday we will present during Study Hall. I chose to research Carl Gauss. From my limited research today, I found out that he was a genius back when he was in elementary school. The teacher told the class to add the numbers 1 to 100 on their slates. Gauss turned his in almost immediately, with one number written on it: 5,050. He turned out to be the only one that was right. When the teacher asked, Gauss told him he added 100 and 1 to get 101. The same works with 99 and 2, 98 and 3, etc. Since there are 50 sets of 101's, the answer is 101 * 50 or 5050. This was truly amazing back then, and still is to most high schoolers today. I am glad that I get to learn more about him, and other revolutionary and famous mathematicians.

The awesome Origami we made at Arête.
After study hall, we had Arête from 3:15 to 4:15. This week I have an origami class. This class was also awesome. The teacher was from the Nashville Origami Club. She started by showing us various samples of origami. She even had a Yoda figure made by a process called wet origami. She started us off with a flapping bird. Just as is sounds, it is a bird with wings that flap (when you pull the tail.) Next we made a box. (Mine has a yellow lid and a green bottom.) I think we should have started with the box, as it seemed less complicated to me, but it's her decision. She's the teacher. After the box (with a lid) we made jumping frogs out of index cards. The problem with these frogs is that they don't jump very well. After the index card frogs, she handed out Metro Tickets to fold as well. The Metro Tickets are much thicker, making more tension, resulting in a further and higher bounce. I found it ironic that we rode the Metro three days ago, and now the instructor was using Metro tickets to make Origami. I was surprised she had Metro tickets from New York when we are all the way in Nashville, but she said they were donated. I checked the back: They expired in 2010.

After Arête, we had 45 minutes of free time until dinner, which was at 6. On normal days, we also have free time from 7-9. These are dubbed "soft nights" because during this time you can sign yourself out and go around town in a group of three or more. Today however, we there was an activity planned. From 7-9 all the proctor groups went on a photo scavenger hunt. We had to go all around campus taking photos of us doing lots of random things from hugging pillars to planking to standing in front of buildings to proposing to a stranger. I would have rather stayed the the Hank Ingram House at that time, as it was very humid, wet, and we had to walk all the way across campus and back. Tomorrow is free, so I'll be doing laundry from 7-9. As soon as we got back to Hank, I hopped in the shower to beat the rush of everyone else coming back. 

At 10 we had our nightly proctor meeting. Hugh handed out Vanderbilt water bottles, and had us write our names on them. I thought this was actually quite brilliant of him. They all look the same, and we all have one, so there would be disputes later on and lost water bottles if we did not all write our name. He also announced that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays proctors would be leading a three mile run and a trip to the gym. Many of the boys in my group were very excited. I think I might try the three mile run Wednesday morning. After the meeting, we had some free time until we went to bed.

Tomorrow I get to explore more matrices, research Carl Gauss some more, and make more Origami. Today was awesome and I can't wait for tomorrow!

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