Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy 8th Anniversary to The Other Dentist

In ninth grade I got an assignment from Mr. Brough to find out which blogging service would best fit the needs of our Journalism class. I did some research and suggested that Brough have the students use blogger. He assigned us all to create a blog and write at least two posts. That was eight years ago. Most of the blogs that were created back in that day have since died, but I know a few that are still kicking. Ha, we don't go down too easily.

Happy pi day to everybody out there. That's really the only way that I know the anniversary- my first post was about pi day. I'm glad to see that I was a nerd back in ninth grade. That was eight years ago, apparently. Can you believe it? I feel like it was longer, honestly. I was a much different person in 9th grade. Same basic makeup, I suppose, but with much less experience. I'm confident that I'll look back in another 8 years and say the same thing about me right now. Same basic person, but can you imagine the experience that I'll have in 8 years? I should have a family and career by then. That's pretty insane. I might be driving a car that is not from 1993. Now that'd be pretty hardcore.

I spent the day up in Logan, proctoring the state math competition for high school and junior high kids. I loved attending the competition while I was in school, and I jumped at the opportunity to proctor this year. The whole concept is pretty simple: A few professors at the host university (it rotates every year) write two exceedingly difficult math tests, one for high school kids and another for junior high kids. Kids from every school in the state

(Err, surrounding region? Not sure) are bussed up to come take this radical test. We anticipated 2,200 kids on campus today. I didn't hear the final count, but it looked pretty realistic. The test is designed to be at least partially way over the head of most kids. There are some problems that are fairly easy, some that are difficult, but most that are just a little obscure and that never get treated by a high school math course. It's more of an exercise in problem solving than in hardcore mathematics. I haven't taken this years test (although I happen to have three copies of it in my backpack for a future time when Me, Levi, and Kyle want to nerd out together).

The thing that I love so much about the state math competition is that it really doesn't matter. I mean sure, we get to gather some information on how one school compares to another school in math, and we get to compare male vs. female scores for all grades and all that. But aside from the data collection, the scores don't really matter. I suppose that if you did incredibly well you would be offered a scholarship or something, but I haven't really seen it happen. It's just a chance to take a day off of school, visit a college campus, and try your hardest to solve some pretty difficult problems.

I was very impressed with the students in my room today. They are required to spend at least 1.5 hours on the test, but can take as much as 2.5 hours if they want. Once the first 1.5 hours were over we had a little more than half of the kids leave- they had clearly done as much as they knew how. The other half stuck around and just kept on trying. They were working uber hard to solve problems they'd never looked at before. These problems had exactly no bearing on their grade or chances at university acceptance. There existed something within the students that urged them to solve as many problems as they could, despite the fact that they were difficult and largely useless.

I'm impressed with the tenacity that I saw today. It takes a special kind of individual to throw themselves wholeheartedly at a problem whose solution is largely insignificant. Having participated in this event multiple times I can tell you that it truly doesn't matter. But here they were, students, in droves, fighting like crazy to do just a little bit better than the other guy. Or maybe not even better than the other guy, maybe they just wanted to prove to themselves that they were that good. Or perhaps it wasn't about proof at all, maybe it was just about discovering their true limits as a math nerd. It's not every day that you get a test that is so difficult that you can't possibly get 100 percent on it (note: it is not impossible to get 100 percent on this test. It is just highly unlikely).

Opportunities to push ourselves this hard don't come along too often. We don't normally get to push as hard as we can. We most often just push super hard and the car either moves or it doesn't. It is rare that we can push as hard as we can, see some small movement, and then keep pushing as hard as we can and keep moving forward. It's like this sweet mushy spot of progress that makes me happy. I think the state math test does that. You get to push your brain as hard as you can against it. It's not like doing that will give you 100 percent, and its' not like doing that will give you 0 percent. You end up splattered somewhere in the middle, and that is where you lie. I love standardized testing.

Scoring on the test is worth mentioning. Leaving a question blank is worth 1 point. Marking an incorrect answer on a question is worth minus 2 points. Getting a question correct is worth 5 points. Some students were advocating the "If you don't know, don't guess" strategy. I think that's totally bogus. Assuming that we have 5 options, a blind guess will result in +5 points one-out-of-five times. If it weren't for the minus penalty, you'd be striking even with not putting anything at all. So, if probability holds, we could guess on five questions. Four of them would be wrong, for minus 8 points, and one of them would be right, for plus 5. We're at a -3 right now.

The cool thing about multiple choice tests is that you can eliminate answers that you know are not correct. If you can eliminate one answer, all the sudden you are gaining +1.25 points on every guess instead of just +1. If you eliminate two, or three, you are dominating. The elimination game in standardized testing is way too valuable to ignore. I wish somebody would teach this in high school. When it comes to scoring high on exams, you are going to need to be able to guess. Knowing how to guess is definitely going to come in handy.

In the past 24 hours I've only had about 70 minutes of sleep, so I'm going to head to bed. Merry pi day to everybody out there. I hope life is going well. Here's to continued postage.

1 comment:

Jaron Frost said...

Learning little tricks like that is a huge part of why I was able to do well on tests in high school. I like to think that it's important to learn the material, but there's also this sneaky side of learning how to fudge your way through and still get a good grade. I don't think any of us can deny that that's a pretty good life skill right there, even if it's a bit risky.