Tuesday, March 20, 2007

'The best way to learn/understand maths...

... is too teach it.'

That's another quote from Prof. S and I agree with him. I think you can generalize that statement and say that the best way to learn and to properly understand something is by teaching it. (Although there may be a few exceptions!). My recent posts have been more of my day to day business, and I keep on mentioning posts that I am going to write about. I thank you for your patience (if indeed you are waiting) but I'm waiting for the Easter Holidays, truth be told. Them post require a lot more thought, and as you've probably gathered a few of the previous posts have been slightly random. The posts that I have in mind are not such a big deal, but they're more about 'me and my maths!'.

Back to the quote. Now this wasn't a random quote by Prof. S. He said it at the end of last Wednesday's lecture, after two students and Dr. W had finished talking to us. Basically, the University's Maths department runs a 'PASS' scheme, which I believe has been ran for the past 10 years. Obviously they don't want to break tradition, so they are going to be continuing it next year. However, for this to happen they 'need' (I think) first or second year students to volunteer an hour of their time a week. Hence why we were being invited along to a meeting- tomorrow.

So what exactly is PASS? (I have to spoil this 'formal' post by saying- wow!:o).

'The School of Mathematics runs a Peer Mentoring Scheme and a Peer Assisted Study Scheme (PASS).

The PASS Scheme consists of weekly sessions, which give First Year students a chance to share ideas with Second and Third year students in the School. The Second and Third year students have invaluable experience of course units and life as a student in Manchester, and they can help First Year students to learn how to study. The mentors are there to provide support and advice, and although our academic staff are very (trust me they are) friendly sometimes it's easier to talk to another student who's just been through the same experience.

The student mentors are not necessarily expert mathematicians, but they have developed strategies for succeeding on our degree programme, and they can pass on their experience to help you improve your study skills.

The aims of the PASS scheme are

  • To enhance the quality, quantity and diversity of student learning within the school.
  • To provide you with a supportive environment to work through issues relating to your academic course.'
And a load more mumbo jumbo about it looking good on you CV etc etc. As you've gathered, I just got that chunk from my student handbook, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to give a proper description of it!

So I'm a first year student, do I go to these PASS sessions? Or how many have I been to? OK, I'll confess, after the first session that I went to I learnt it was optional to attend them. So that was obviously my first and last session. I have a few things to say in my defence, however I'm ashamed to admit that one reason for not going was because the Tweenies weren't going. I've since learnt from that. Another reason was that on Monday morning's last semester we had a 9am Sets, Numbers and Functions lecture in the Renold Building. (Surprisingly I didn't mind the 9am start!). Now the PASS sessions are in the Newman Building, which I don't particularly like. It's only a whisker away, but during the first semester I was a lazy so and so who used to bus it everywhere. The prospect of walking to the Newman building and then back to the UMIST campus was frightening. (gosh I could have said that liked I meant it!) The PASS session was at 11am so I really had no excuses.

Another reason for not going to them was that the 9am lecture was our only lecture on Monday, and after that we had a whole day of doing nothing (till 3pm I think because Milo had a supervision then). In the beginning, when I wasn't particularly acquainted with the Tweenies, I used to spend some of this time in the library. However soon we went through a phase of not doing anything during this time. (Either used to watch movies, or general stuff if we didn't have any assignments to hand in).

I never really felt 'guilty' of not going to these PASS sessions, but I have another 'excuse' for that. You see when I first started- fresh from the holidays, excited about university, crying about how hard the work etc etc, I was a 'goody too shoes'. I felt that since PASS was on the timetable, we should at least attend it. It's a good scheme as well ~tiptoes~

OK, I'll stop beating around the bush and get to the point. My first session was actually an introductory one (so that means I went to two sessions!), in which we met with our mentors and they arranged a time for us to have the sessions. We agreed to stick to the 11am slot, and after getting some contact details we were out of there. Next week was the actual session. I decided to do the problem sheet in this hour, because I felt that was a productive use of my time. We had two mentors. If we had a pure problem we went to A, and if it was a calculus problem we went to B. This wasn't a strict policy, we could talk to them about anything I suppose. The hour session was also another good opportunity to talk to other maths students on your course and to get to know more people. I had gone to A, since I was doing the first problem sheet which Nige had set us. So we talked, did some maths, and talked some more.

I obviously did become stuck (duh!) and asked for assistance. This is where my excuse comes in. You see A and B told us that they couldn't really remember any of the stuff that they'd done during the first year properly! I wasn't very enthusiastic' after learning this. I'm particularly stubborn in the sense, that I only ever ask for help if it's the last resort. There's one question that I'm currently doing (but can't), but I'm not asking for assistance because I obviously want to do it myself. Now this stubbornness only applies to certain cases. When it comes to me wanting to understand a concept which I obviously find difficulty in, then I naturally seek help (probably of Dr C in uni!). However if it's a question then I feel that I should be able to do. I battle with the question, until well my frustration gets the better of me and I am left with no inspiration. When this is the case I reluctantly ask for help. (and then feel like banging my head against the wall, thinking why the heck could I not do that!). This, isn't always a good quality to possess, because sometimes my stubbornness is seen as something else by people. Can't really find the right for exactly what.

Anyway, I'll stop there before I go of another tangent. Back to PASS. Now I'm not going to expand much about the next few sentences, because they're what I'm going to write about during the Easter Holidays. When you have a teacher or mentors or basically anyone who teaches you in one way or another, then you have a special relation with this person. That of trust. You trust to be guided along the 'right' way and when you do deviate slightly you get a nudge towards the 'right' direction. You place an enormous amount of trust in these special people. When that trust is slightly broken, or when it's never there then you don't really feel that you'll be given that nudge or slight push into the the 'right' direction. I never really got to build this trust with my PASS mentors, and maybe I didn't give them chance. But I was really put of by the fact that they didn't really have the 'solutions' to my problems. I didn't really want to know much about the university experience, since I've not really come to university with that being my main motivation. I felt that rather than going to PASS, I would find it a more valuable use of my time to sit at home or somewhere else, and struggle away.

Like I said, I can't really expand on this and 'blame' the mentors since I'm guilty of not attending the sessions. I'm a different type of learner. I prefer struggling. Then crying. And crying some more. Cry... ah you get the picture! But then finally asking for help. (You'll be hearing more of this next week).

Now the question begging to be asked, is why do I care about PASS? Well I'm going to go for it. Tomorrow (if I remember!) I am going to the PASS meeting in the Newman Building at one, after my Linear Algebra lecture. Milo's not coming but Bella and Fizz might be going as well. Not only will this give me experience of 'teaching' it will also help me many more ways.

You see I sometimes I sit and think about what I did during my first semester (everything apart from stats that is!) and actually mull over the work we did. Unfortunately, there are certain things which I've forgotten and other things which I never really learnt properly since I never understood them. (Sets!) I do look over my last semester files, and sometimes do a quick question here and another there, but like I said my memory is like a sieve. (Wow, just remembered the sieve method for prime numbers!). Anyway, I obviously don't have much time to make sure that I remember all my first semester stuff, because of the new content this semester. However I now have a reason to actually make sure that I go back and make sure that I understand what's happening.

I want to be a PASS mentor who knows what the students are on about, and can actually help them. I'm pretty determined to do this, although if I do do this then I'm going to pull a sicky when it gets to the set bit! And going back to the quote, by doing this I will inevitably be helping myself. I'm one of them sad students who was thinking about spending my summer holidays, getting books about the modules which I'll (hopefully) be doing next year, and looking over them. But now I'm going to make sure that I fully get the first semester stuff so that, if life turns out all rosy and I pass my first year, then I'll be able to help others. I still want to be a teacher, at the moment anyway, so this will also provide a good experience for me. I don't really want to forget anything I've done, this may be inevitable but I was in such awe of my personal tutor, and other lecturers when they used to be able to help me in other fields of maths. I guess they've been doing it for much longer than students, but it was still cool! My PT just looks at the question and knows what to do, as with the staff at the example class! Cool. (There you have my motivation and inspiration).

I got distracted half way through this post, but the things I tiptoed around will definitely be discussed some other time. I'll conclude by saying that PASS is a good scheme. I do regret not going to any more sessions, because even though my mentors couldn't help me all the time, it would have been good getting to know them and they would have given me a chance to learn from their experiences. It's a bit late to start attending now, but hopefully I'll be over to 'get over it' so to speak by being a mentor myself! (Don't worry, I won't be telling them about the weird experiments that I do, and definitely won't be recommending them!).

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