Posts Tagged With: Education

Phi Theta Kappa Membership

Phi Theta Kappa Certificate

Phi Theta Kappa Certificate

The other week I received an email from my calculus professor (she’s the advisor for my college’s chapter of the society) notifying me that I qualify for membership in Phi Theta Kappa–the honor society for 2-year college students. Among other eligibility requirements, one must have completed at least 12 credit hours and have a current GPA of at least 3.5.

The eligibility requirements are pretty low, I think, but I still feel a sense of pride for the invitation. Besides, gaining membership had been one of my goals. It’ll look good on my diploma and my resume, and it may get me some fat scholarships depending on the university I apply to in a year.

I went ahead and paid the $75 fee to join–hopefully, it’s worth it. What do you think? Is membership in Phi Theta Kappa particularly beneficial in any way?

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Analyzing and Improving your Math Test Scores

My Calculus Test Grade

My Calculus Test Grade

Yesterday I finally got my calculus test results for the test I took last week. My grade was 90% (plus 3 percentage points for extra credit work I did). That the class average was under 64% is irrelevant. As a perfectionist with a 4.0 GPA, my grade is unacceptable. The question is, how am I going to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

The first step is a critical analysis of where I went wrong. The second step is to figure out what was wrong with my learning and test preparation strategies, and the last step is to adjust my learning and test preparation strategies so it doesn’t happen again.

It has been my experience that errors I make on a math test fall into three different categories:

  1. Format errors
  2. Calculation errors
  3. Conceptual errors

The first, format errors, occur when you don’t obey the formatting rules outlined or assumed by the professor. For example, if you’re asked to show work and you don’t or if you’re supposed to call a nonexistent limit “DNE” instead of “it no work”, I would call those formatting errors. The second is calculation errors, and those are caused when you don’t pay attention to detail, or you fail to check your work. The third is the worst kind of error because it signals a conceptual misunderstanding of the material the test is testing you on.

  1. Format errors: Sloppiness, failure to follow guidelines
  2. Calculation errors: Failure to check work or pay attention to detail
  3. Conceptual errors: Failing to understand the material at the conceptual level

Before the test, our professor repeatedly told us that we have to show work in order to receive credit. Well, silly me, on a two-part problem which required the same kind of thinking on both parts, I decided it would be sufficient to show work on one part and just do the next part in my head. Ouch, -1 point. On another problem, I got a -2 for not being explicit enough with my answer. I answered “discontinuous at x = 3 because undefined”. The correct answer was “f(3) is not defined”. I think my professor was getting tired or something when she graded that one. On another one I used absolute value bars when I should have used brackets and a negative sign. I still got the right final answer–my method was just not the traditional one. All in all, 4 out of 10 of the negative points I got was due to avoidable sloppiness–format errors.

On two of the problems, I demonstrated a failure of understanding at the conceptual level. I lost 5 points for mistaking a tangent line to a curve at a specific point for the derivative function of the curve. It took me an hour to figure out where I went wrong–a definite failure at the conceptual level. The one other point loss came from an inability to remember (or to figure out) whether or not a function is differentiable at a removable discontinuity.

To fix errors of the first kind (i.e. format errors) I need to pay more attention to my professor’s guidelines, and I need to follow them to the letter. It wouldn’t hurt to show way more work than I think is necessary. It probably would be a good idea to give my answer in multiple ways just to make it obvious that I know what I’m doing. I didn’t make any calculation errors, but these are fairly easily fixed by checking work religiously and by at least two different methods. Errors of the third kind (i.e. conceptual errors) can only be fixed by analyzing my learning strategy and adjusting it to reinforce and check whether I’m actually understanding the material at the conceptual level. A good review done prior to the test should also help keep the conceptual stuff fresh come test time. So here’s how to fix each of these math test errors:

  1. Format errors: Pay attention to and follow your professor’s guidelines and generally accepted math syntax. Don’t forget your units.
  2. Calculation errors: Check your work as you’re going along then later come back and double-check it with a completely different method.
  3. Conceptual errors: Study, study, study. Constantly review to keep the conceptual stuff fresh in your mind. You need to know the “definitions” so you have a conceptual foundation to fall back on.

That’s it. We’ll see what my grade is on the next calculus test…

Categories: Math | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Whew! Last Final!

This afternoon I had my last final exam for the semester–chemistry. I feel pretty confident with my score. I should get a score around the mid-90’s, which isn’t bad considering that I didn’t review much for the exam. No worries, though… I can score all the down to 76% on the final and still walk away with an A for the course.

Last Friday I had my trigonometry and pre-calculus finals. I faced the same issue that I did with the mid-terms–I had to be at the college’s southern campus (45 minutes south of home) at 4:00PM for pre-calculus, then I had to be at the college’s northern campus (1/2 hour north of home) at 7:00PM for the trigonometry final. This time, however, I was well prepared for both exams and had no trouble. I aced both of them. So far (3 math courses) I haven’t had less than 100% on any proctored math exams. One time, I got one question partially wrong, but weirdly enough, a perfect score results in a score of a few percentage points more than 100, so that time I ended up getting exactly 100%.

I’m glad the semester is over. Toward the end there I was getting bored and having trouble with ambition. That, of course, resulted in some scary procrastination. Now I have about three weeks to catch up on other things before going back to school. This weekend our household (3 adults) is moving to a new place. That’ll be fun. Not. Next weekend, my fiancee and I plan on visiting Florida State University, which is likely to be the university that I transfer to for fall 2015. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to work a little more–save up some of that green stuff that I haven’t seen around much of late. Maybe, I’ll even have time to drink a few beers and do some reading.

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Lazy Math Students

There it is!

There it is!

New Commandment: Any math student that leaves a test early and receives anything less than an A, shall be considered a failure and unworthy of the precision, the utter beauty, and the pure truth of mathematics.

Every math test that I’ve taken so far has been scheduled for a full two hours. Invariably though, half the students have left by the one hour mark. By the time I’ve triple-checked every equation, I’m one of the few that’s left. Always, I think, wow! this course has a lot of brilliant students! However, when I check the current average grades for the course, they’re around 65-80%. WHAT THE HELL?!?! Obviously, some of those students leaving early should keep right on walking and never look back.

What in bloody hell could possess students to leave a math test early AND do poorly on it at the same time? Do they not triple-check their work? Are there really students that are fine with C’s? Are there really people who pay good money to do things which will be on their permanent academic record and affect the rest of their academic life and subsequent career, AND they’re fine with mediocre?

Maybe those people should withdraw from college so that poor people that truly want an education can get the financial aid they need. I’m just putting it out there. If you don’t give it your everything, maybe you don’t deserve it.

Image credit: Math question image copyright (c) 2008 Jerry Paffendorf and made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Categories: Math | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Surviving Anti-intellectualism

Empty desks...

Empty desks…

None of my old friends ever went to college. Zero! None of my extended family has ever gone to college. Zip! I don’t think I even have cousins that have gone to college, and coming from an Amish family, you know that I have a crapload of cousins. Maybe it should come as no surprise that almost everyone I interact with discourages, in one way or another, my college education.

When I first told my family that I had enrolled in college, I expected silent pride at the least. Instead, they told me that they would be proud of me if I returned to the Amish. I guess anything less wouldn’t qualify. When asked what I plan on “becoming”, I said I want to become a rocket scientist (after being unable to adequately explain what it means to be a physicist). My father suggested that scientists, are on the whole, not a very bright lot of people. After that very uncomfortable exchange, I don’t bring up the subject of education anymore.

My fiancee’s Amish family rewards our dreams of education with what appears to be barely suppressed derision or perhaps they’re just skeptical of our mental well-being. They offer all sorts of tidbits on why we should just stay where we are and keep doing what we’ve always done. My friends don’t actively discourage our dreams of education, but they will readily admit that they have no desire for one themselves.

Most Amish and ex-Amish regard higher education (anything more than 8 grades) with disdain and derision. They consider it unnecessary, impractical, and a distraction from the meaningful things in life–whatever they think those may be. I find it difficult to understand that kind of mentality. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I have an insatiable curiosity about the mechanics of the universe. I am utterly unable to understand how some people can be anti-LEARNING.

In any case, they’re not going to change my mind about education. If anything, it’s only further cemented my urge to intellectually distinguish myself from them.

Image credit: Empty desks image copyright (c) 2007 Richard Lee and made available under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Essential Notes for the Clueless College Noob

Deep down, aren't we all just confused chimps?

Deep down, aren’t we all just confused chimps?

If you’re a first-generation college student, an ignorant ex-Amish kid like myself, or just generally clueless, there are several things you should know before/as you embark on your journey of education. If you know anything at all about college or have friends/family that went to college, then this post will probably bore you to tearful yawns.

Are you Ready?

Most colleges require a high school diploma or GED, before they consider you bright enough to walk through their hallowed doors. Unfair, I know. If you’ve picked a college, check out their admission requirements online. If you haven’t picked one yet, get your GED, because you will most likely need it.

Many colleges also want your SAT or ACT scores. For some 2-year colleges, you may be able to take a placement test instead of the SAT or ACT.

Picking Your School

If money is a rarity, you should seriously consider starting at a 2-year college. In many (most? all?) states, an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree can be earned at a 2-year college. This 2-year degree will (possibly? always?) allow you to transfer to a university (way more expensive) to complete the next 2 years.

The School Year

Most colleges, when they talk about a “year,” are referring to their school year. The school year does not resemble the practical and generally agreed-upon convention of running for 12 months starting with January. At many colleges, the school year starts with Fall Semester (Aug. to Dec.), middles with Spring Semester (Jan. to May), and ends with Summer Semester (May to Aug.). This is what it’s like at my current school; your school may be different.


A college course typically runs for one semester. If multiple semesters are required, the course is often broken into a series (e.g. Calculus 1, Calculus 2, Calculus 3). It is your responsibility to select your courses and register for them prior to their start dates. You may have to register for courses up to months ahead of their start dates. Find your college’s academic calendar. Sometimes, popular or required courses fill up early. Register for your courses as soon as possible after you’ve figured out which ones you want to take.

If you’re going for a degree, the college will have required courses. For example, you will probably have to take several writing courses and math courses at some point before you can graduate.

Each course that you register for will have a syllabus. This is an absurdly fancy term for a multi-page piece of paper that describes the course, the teacher, and the weekly course schedule. It is a hallowed piece of parchment and should be regarded with the highest of reverence. I kid you not.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to ease tentatively into the murky waters of higher education. For your first semester, you should consider registering for courses that will be easier for you. You could also register for less than the full course load. This will keep your stress at a minimum as you familiarize yourself with college life.

It is your responsibility to choose your courses and make sure they don’t conflict with each other. It sucks having to clone yourself after realizing that all four of your courses have lectures at the same time on the same day. Registering for courses requires a lot of charting and hair-pulling. It’s a bit like a puzzle–trying different courses together to see if you can build a complete picture without having multiple courses on top of each other. During the course registering process, you’ll need to note the lecture dates, times, and locations, lab dates, times, and locations, and all exam dates, times, and locations.

Some colleges have multiple campuses (i.e. education locations). Keep that in mind when selecting courses. You don’t want to be hitchhiking ten miles every day just to make it from Chemistry to Algebra.

Many courses have prerequisites. This means there are other courses you have to pass before you can take this one. They just won’t let you take Calculus 3 before Pre-calculus Algebra for some reason. Prereqs will generally be listed in the course catalog–under, over, or inside of the course description.

Some courses have co-requisites. This means that somewhere there exists a course that must be taken at the same time. For example, if you register for a chemistry course, you may also have to register for the chemistry lab course that goes with it.

As if all of the above wasn’t confusing enough, there’s more. Your school may have several different types of courses. There’s the regular kind where you go on campus for lectures and exams, there’s the blended course where you might have lectures online and go on campus for lab practice, and then there are the wholly (holy) online courses. Choose what works best for your schedule and learning style.

When building your course plan, be sure that the majority of your courses are relevant to your degree. It would suck for you to complete 60 credit hours only to find out that only 20 of them can be applied to your degree. Here comes two more years of school… Dumbass! But seriously, if you’re unsure, speak with a guidance counselor at your school.


There are several things you should know about textbooks. The first is that textbooks are ridiculously expensive. The campus will try to sell them to you at $75 to hundreds of dollars a pop. My next point follows quite logically. Don’t buy new textbooks from your campus bookstore unless you absolutely have to. Here is what you should do: Buy used textbooks from Amazon, Craigslist, your campus bookstore, etc., or rent your textbooks from a place like

The other thing about textbooks… be sure that you get the right edition. Many textbooks are updated every year, and teachers often insist on using only a specific edition. True story: I purchased my very first college textbook from my campus bookstore after showing the store lady my syllabus. Guess what… She sold me the wrong edition, and I didn’t discover it until the course was underway, and I couldn’t figure out why the page numbers the teacher was assigning didn’t make sense. The point is, the textbook edition and/or ISBN that is required for the course is listed on the syllabus. Always match these to the one you’re buying.

What the Fuzz is an Undergraduate?

Associate’s Degree: A two-year degree typically earned at a community (two-year) college. It is a standalone degree, but is often earned prior to transfer to a university for two more years of study in order to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degree: A four-year degree. If someone asks if you’re a college graduate, they usually mean, “Have you earned your bachelor’s degree?”

Baccalaureate: Sometimes used as another word for “bachelor’s degree,” particularly in the European school system.

Undergraduate: Any student that has not yet earned a bachelor’s degree.

Undergraduate degree: Another term for “bachelor’s degree.”

Graduate: A student that has earned a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate study: Study performed after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Graduate degree: Any degree requiring study past the point of receiving a bachelor’s degree.

Master’s degree: Typically a six-year degree… meaning that it requires two years of study after earning a bachelor’s degree in that field.

Doctor’s degree: Typically an 8+ year degree… meaning that it requires four or more years of study after earning a bachelor’s degree. There are different kinds of doctor’s degrees (doctorates). For example, the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is a research doctorate that is typically earned by academics and scientists. To earn this degree, the scholar has to make original contributions to the field. The Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) is the doctor’s degree for actual doctors, and the Juris Doctor (J.D.) is the doctor’s degree for lawyers and the like.

Being a first-generation college student, I was pretty fuzzy on some of these terms until I actually enrolled in college and had to figure out what they meant. Click here for lots more college terminology.

Financial Aid

Well now, it seems that I have just run out of literary energy. Isn’t that unfortunate?

More Questions?

After you are accepted at a college, you will likely have to go to an orientation. This is the perfect time and place to have all of your confusions disentangled. Otherwise, call or visit your college and nag various people (not students; they’re just as ignorant as you are) until they de(con)fuse you. You should also be googling prodigiously at this point (I’m not sure if “prodigiously” should be in quotes or not {get it?}).

Note to readers: If at any point you find my use of parentheses on the excessive side of too much, please tell me. Personally, I love using parentheses because it allows me to play with a phenomenon that excites me at a very meta level: recursion.

Image credit: Chimp image copyright (c) 2009 Tambako the Jaguar and made available under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.

Categories: College, College Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Forward to Fall 2013

Notepad and Pen

Here’s a picture of a notepad and pen. Just because…

For the fall semester, I enrolled in five courses, and I’m excited about all of them. I’m going to note some of my feelings/ideas about the coming semester, and after it’s all over, I’ll see if it went as well as I think it will.

I will be taking all of my upcoming courses online, except for one: chemistry will be a blended course–lectures online, but lab in the physical world. By taking them online, I can work on raising funds to support my addiction to education.

Introduction to Anthropology

I picked this course primarily because it seemed to be the most interesting course that satisfies segments of both the Gordon Rule and International/Intercultural requirements. I know there will be at least four essays, but they don’t scare me–they’re only required to be two pages long. As long as I find the subject interesting, I don’t mind writing the essays. I think I will enjoy learning a little more about the history of that species of rascals that currently infests Earth.

Introductory Chemistry

I’m really looking forward to this course. I’ve always been interested in learning about the fundamental building blocks of nature, and while the elements of chemistry might not be the quarks of quantum mechanics, I think I will learn a lot and enjoy doing it. I didn’t study chemistry in high school, and I’ve never “played” in a laboratory, so I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it. If I can learn the skills to become the next Breaking Bad methmaker, that’d be a bonus. I kid.


I’ve studied trigonometry before, so I don’t think this course will be very difficult for me. It will mostly be review, but I have to take the course before I can enroll for the calculus series.

Pre-calculus Algebra

Same as above. About half of this course will be spent reviewing what I just got done reviewing in College Algebra. I’ll slog through it looking forward to the day when I can finally enroll in that first calculus course.

Creative Writing

I’m still vacillating a little about this course. If I don’t like the syllabus when I look at it, I might drop the course. I hate poetry, but I enjoy writing. I have a moderate interest in writing science fiction, and I’m hoping this course can help me. If you have any advice for me, please leave a comment!

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Summer 2013 College Cost: $843

My first semester in college (Summer 2013) is almost over, and I’ve decided to take a look at what it cost me, financially. First, I want to show what it could have cost me, and then I want to show what it really cost me. I saved a lot of money… I think. Let’s see.

Note: This semester I took only 3 courses (9 credit hours) instead of the full 4 (12 hours).

My college’s cost of attendance calculator for summer 2013, was as follows:

  • Books and Supplies: $550.00
  • Personal Expenses: $533.00
  • Room and Board: $3110.00
  • Tuition and Fees: $1383.00
  • Transportation: $509.00
  • Total Cost of Attendance: $6085.00

Here are my actual costs:

  • Written Communications textbooks purchased from the school: $154.59
  • Sold above textbooks back to the school: ($58.00)
  • Literature Textbook from Amazon: $15.50
  • TI-84 Plus calculator from Craigslist: $40.00
  • Writing Textbook: $4.19
  • Backpack from Target: $72.75
  • Notebooks from Walmart: $7.02
  • Poetry textbook: $14.86
  • Personal Expenses: $0
  • House sit for my aunt for three months: $0
  • Transportation: $43
  • Tuition and Fees: $549.32
  • Total Cost of Attendance: $843.23 (Total Savings: $5241.77)

The first set of textbooks I purchased, I purchased at my college bookstore. Nothing could have prepared me for the sticker shock. $155 for two textbooks! It was utterly absurd. Then and there, I vowed to buy all of my textbooks online, if at all possible. If I would have known the outrageous prices I could have saved an additional hundred bucks by purchasing that first set online.

Instead of paying $90 for the calculator at Walmart (or $130 at the school), I looked on Craigslist. It didn’t take more than five minutes to find one and another three hours to have a perfectly good TI-84 Plus calculator in hand for only $40.

I admit, I splurged a little on the backpack. It took me a good half hour to find one at Target that I deemed suitable. Instead of saving money and going with one that would last for a year or two, I decided to pick a good one and hope it would last eight or ten years.

Here in Florida, rent is ludicrously high (compared to some random place like Ecuador). Here we would pay $500+ per month for a bare studio apartment. Fortunately, I have an aunt that owns a winter home here in Florida, and she needed someone to house-sit over the summer. We pay all utilities and expenses, but hey, we still save thousands of dollars.

I saved on tuition by applying for and receiving $413 from FAFSA. I may have made a grievous error. Keep in mind that I knew nothing about college. I’m the first from my family and the first of my friends to go to college. Keep that in mind before judging too harshly. Before I applied for FAFSA, I researched it a bit and learned that I could get FAFSA for a maximum of six years. Okay, no problem. However, I assumed they used the same definition of “year” as most people do. I had no idea that the current year would be over in several weeks. Well, I received $413 for those several weeks, but I used up one of the six years. If I would have applied several weeks later at the start of the next school year, I would have received closer to $5000. Let’s just hope I don’t need six real years to finish my undergraduate degree.

I live about 15 miles from campus so how could I possibly get through a semester on $43 in gas? Elementary, my dear Watson–I opted for online courses. My college offers most of its course selection online. For both of the writing courses I took, I never had to visit campus. For the algebra course, however, I had to be on campus for orientation, the mid-term, and the final.

I love online courses for several reasons. I suffer from moderate to severe social anxiety which makes it harder for me to learn in a classroom environment. The online courses allow me to study without distraction, and they allow me to revisit lectures again and again–something that is not so easily done with classroom courses. Taking the online courses saves money on gas. Last, but not least, taking them online, allows me to fit them into my random part-time work schedule.

My goal is to complete the first two years of my undergraduate degree at the community college, and do it without incurring debt. This means saving money at every chance I get, and it means working my ass off to make money when I’m not studying. So far, it’s looking good!

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Doing College on the Cheap

Here are some things that are making college a lot more affordable for me.

1. Do the first two years in community college before transferring to a university
2. Submit FAFSA every year
3. Buy textbooks online (e.g. Amazon)
4. Sell textbooks back to the school if they have a buyback program
5. Take web/blended courses where possible to reduce transportation costs and to accommodate work schedule
6. Get reimbursed for costs through income tax deductions and credits
7. Apply for scholarships

If you have any money-saving tips for college, please comment!

Categories: Affording College, College | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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