Monday, December 17, 2007


I know it's been a while since I last posted. It's finals week, which means I'm basically studying all the time. I have a bunch of posts in the works,

I just took my first final, physics (8.02, intro electricity & magnetism). I felt really good about that one; everything seems to have come together really well and comprehensibly in my head in the past several weeks. I give the credit to the professor's very intuitive style of teaching and understanding everything, and to his fondness for conceptually difficult questions with easy math. That is how to teach physics, IMHO. (I have a lot more to say about the course format, TEAL ("technologically enabled active learning"), but that's a whole nother post.)

I'm not really so worried about tomorrow, when I have my midterm in calculus (18.02A). I'm in a kind of funnily-put-together course, where you spend the first six weeks reviewing single-variable calculus at high speed, and then follow the regular curriculum for multivariable calculus, finishing over the January independent activities period. It's primarily intended for people who took AP Calculus AB. I took AP Calculus BC and passed the AP exam with a high score, which would qualify me to jump straight into 18.02 (straight multivariable calculus), but at the beginning of the year I felt like I needed the review. I could have done without it, but it was nice to have. The only problem was that it put me farther behind in terms of math lagging physics (a perennial problem), but the math in my physics course is not actually that hard (e.g. all the line or surface integrals we ever have to do are simple cases that reduce to multiplication problems).

The one I'm worried about is chemistry (5.112), on Wednesday. Most of the content on the test will be drawn from the last several weeks of the course, and that's the material I understand the least. The course is taught by two different professors -- one does the first half and the other does the second half -- and the second guy is very difficult to understand, for various reasons which I will elaborate in the future. It's a blessing that it comes last, really; I have about twelve hours this afternoon/evening for studying, and I don't intend to devote all of them to calculus.

MIT really treats its students very well during finals week. There are free breakfasts in all the dorms, as well as one in the lobby of the building where the biggest finals are held. (And not cheapo lousy free breakfasts, either -- good ones. This morning, for the first time all semester, I had eggs and pancakes! It was awesome!) There are a few free lunches and dinners scattered around, and all the food vendors in the Student Center are giving discounts. Alpha Phi Omega holds "Finals Coffeehouse", with snacks in a room of the Student Center that used to be a 24-hour coffeehouse but is now just a sort of miscellany room with tables. MIT Medical holds relaxation seminars, even. This is characteristic of MIT, really: they pound you into the ground academically, and then they reach down and lift you back they can pound you again.

More content to come over winter break. I've got a lot of saved-up commentary on various aspects of the teaching here.

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