I mentioned a week ago that I had enrolled in a Coursera massive online course for Pre-Calculus from the University of California Irvine. The course will be 10 weeks long and I am halfway my first week.
I'll give my first impression of it: the course is great, and daunting, and frustrating at once. It comprises of short video lessons which are very well done even when some students complain that the voice of the instructor sounds like a "California Valley Girl". Hey, as long as she does not sound like Siri, I have no problem.
After the video there is a quiz of anywhere from 1 to 4 questions (at least for the ones I have completed). These quizzes test your superficial knowledge of the subject in the video. In other words they make you re-enact the video versus challenging you to apply the knowledge to a problem that is different. This makes sense since we are starting a review of concepts we will need for pre-calculus. If the patter continues later on it will be a disappointment.
The quizzes do present an unforeseen challenge, you have to use especial notation to get your answers input in. Anyone accustomed to using excel will find this simple, but for others it might be an extra worry. For example, if my answer is (5√2) -5 , I would have to write it like this: (5*sqrt(2))^-5. I know from excel that * means multiplication and that ^ goes before an exponent, but sqrt(number) would have thrown me for a loop. Fortunately bellow the answer box there is a button to verify your answers notation.
Another challenge from the quizzes (which the administrators have told us they are working on expediently), is that they some are flawed and do not accept a correct answer as correct. This can be a grief if you are not sure whether it is your answer or the quiz that is incorrect.
I have learned (well, re-learned would be more appropriate) a lot in half a week. Yet my best insights have come not from the course material but from my experiences. I list those insights bellow.
I have learned that:
- Using pencil and paper to work is better that doing it in your head.
- Rushed work will create shoddy answers.
- Knowing the math is not enough, it's the arithmetic that will get you.
- It is more exciting to get an answer wrong on your first attempt, since it leads to discovery.
I want to expand a little on that last sentiment. In the summer of 2012, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where fairly certain they had found the Higgs Boson, known as the God Particle, a theoretical particle that would explain how matter got mass. As the experiments were underway, I remember reading about renowned physicist who hoped the Higgs Boson was not be found. They were saying that finding it would close a big avenue of new physics. The act of being right would stymie discovery. At the time, I could not understand them. Now I do. Please do not think that I am comparing learning calculus to finding the God Particle. I just find that to get an exercise wrong forces me to look at the process, and the steps I followed. It makes me focus and see beyond what I think the answer should be. That is exciting. If I get the answer right the first time I feel like: "Well, that's that."
Sure enough, I am becoming a firm believer that mistakes make you better. What do you think about that?