10 October 2009

Gonna catch that road runner...

I'm doing mostly all right in two classes; struggling in one. The math class I'm struggling in isn't much of a surprise, and I'm not failing, but it's a cause for concern. I'm doing better getting the homework done, but my grades aren't what they should be in that class. I'm largely avoiding getting my mind really into the material. The word "avoiding" is a word that requires attention, in the same way as a fire alarm going off requires attention. Something's on fire, and that's bad.

Aside: it's important to note how I feel about this. I do not believe that all is lost, and there is no hope of success. What I do believe is that I have more adjustments to make, tweaks to twiddle, and things I need to do differently. I am oriented towards success, meaning while I'm not always on exactly the correct heading I am doing my best to be moving in that direction. It may be the journey, and not the destination that's important, and in some ways that's true, but at the end of the semester it's all about the destination. The journey does not have to be a straight line, but it does have to get you there.

If you've read any of my previous posts, you know I have difficulty with calculus. It's a subject I have to work hard at, and right now it continues to cause me a lot of anxiety. I'm doing better on homework, but I'm doing terribly on my exams (well, my first two, anyway).

Is it that I'm completely lost?

Actually, no. I'm sitting in class looking at things like partial differentiation, and finding parallels to computer science classes that I had years ago. It's not the concepts that are getting me, it's the execution.

It's tempting to leave it at that-- to get up now, go do something else, not think about it, avoid the issue and walk away for a while returning later feeling even more frustrated and more likely to get even more anxious, which will make things more worse. And, in the past, I likely would have done exactly that. Not today.

One skill I've been working on for a while now, is the ability to be wrong, incorrect, out of order, and misaligned, and be perfectly okay with it. It is most definitely not okay to completely screw things up and fail. It is okay to do the wrong thing, slide off the tracks, whatever, as long as you realize that you are doing so, and want to take action to correct the situation. Of course, it's not enough to merely want things to be different, you have to actually expend energy to make them so.

How do you correct something that's wrong? You look at it, ask why it's wrong, look at how you got there, and you do something else that seems like it'll work better.

Here's how my calculus class currently functions: there's about one multi-problem assignment a week, two assignments per unit (maybe one or two chapters of book material), and then a test-- on this test, you can use the assignments and solution keys you've previously completed that cover the material. What should happen, and what happens for most of the people in the class, is that it's easy-- you focus your attention on the assignments, and basically copy the stuff from there onto the test.

The night before the exam, I was up past midnight doing I have no idea what. I really don't remember-- but I'm pretty sure I was avoiding doing what I should have been doing, getting my stuff in order and then getting enough sleep. I've talked about sleep before. It's okay to take an exam when you're short of sleep if you have the other part, the having your stuff together part, done.

The stuff together part was supposed to include getting a practice test done (again, solutions provided), and putting together a notes sheet to use on the test-- a note sheet's purpose being to help you remember what you are likely to forget while you are under stress. Oh yeah, that. Many of the problems on the exam were from the practice test, which I did not pay as much attention to as I should have. I didn't have any notes from the practice test problems on my cheat sheet. I'm certain that many of the points I lost were for things that I simply didn't remember because I was stressing, which again weren't on my cheat sheet.

It's not that I wasn't prepared to do the math. It is, however, that I wasn't prepared to do it on an exam. Different task, different requirements, different mindset. Some might say, "extremis malis extrema remedia"-- often interpreted as, "desperate times call for desperate measures", and I'm inclined to agree.

I cannot fix the exam-- it's done, it's over. I can do something different for next time.

As a result of dealing with PTSD, I have learned that broad, sweeping statements of what I'm gonna do are completely meaningless because they are easy to avoid. So this list is short and focused, on purpose, and here's the plan.

Assignments: Start working on immediately, instead of ignoring because of other committments in other classes. Complete the problems that deal with what was covered in today's class.

Cheat sheet: Blank piece of paper at the start of a chapter. Add stuff as the chapter goes, rather than creating the night before the exam, and use on the assignments.

Studying/reading/concepts: I need to read the book and do the examples, and do extra problems, and not worry about what others do. You do your thing, I'll do mine. Review each lecture tape at least once. (It's probably worthy of a complete post on its own-- but at least a few times a day I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Should I be writing this down? Do I need to go over this problem? I'm getting better at allowing myself to do what I think I need to do.)

Sleep: Um, this post is getting kinda long, I'll cover sleep later... :p

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