MathandLifeLesson #5 – Simplify whenever possible

As a teacher, it is rewarding to know that I can make a difference in the lives of my students. However, it’s more amazing to know that they actually come with more from your class than simply the content material. I know that when my students leave my class, it won’t be the quadratic equations, or that special problem involving a Pythagorean identity that they remember, but something that was said to change their life. The times when they got that pat on the shoulder, that kind hello.

Knowing this, I also  know that math can be seen in life, if looked upon carefully. I began a series of tweets (@MrSawyerMath) entitled #MathandLifeLessons. I hope that these short phrases can help the reader to refresh their skills mathematically, and also help to make life’s transitions a little smoother.

#MathAndLifeLesson Number 5: Simplify whenever possible.

Often mathematics are considered difficult or confusing because of all the symbols, numbers, postulates, axioms, theorems, laws, theories,

Plots of quadratic equation, varying each coef...
Plots of quadratic equation, varying each coefficient (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

constants and variables that cause problems to be more difficult than they are. We must understand that most of the rules and procedures given for simplifying an expression are done so in order to make the problem reduce to it’s basic form.

Life also has a way of appearing complicated. Jobs, families, career aspirations, illnesses, grief, stress, joys, pains, desires, beliefs and doubts can easily frustrate ones mind. However, if possible, we must simplify whenever possible. I found this true in my own life. The funny thing is that life is often complicated due to a lack of focus. We are not able to set a clear focus on our true goals, and instead get caught up with the distractions of life.

We must scale back, and refocus on our goals. We can find this focus in Matthew 6:33. Jesus tells us to seek the kingdom of God first, and all other things we need will be provided. By simplifying our focus and moving towards the things of the kingdom, we find our life situations easier to handle. By handling God’s work, we can trust him to take care of our issues. Simple enough?

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Halfway There

I was inspired to write this piece based on some things going on in my life. I am currently in the process of obtaining my EdD. I was aware of the time and work involved, yet I knew that somewhere around the halfway point, I would begin to experience some questions about the process: was this the route to go, can I keep up with all the responsibilities, have I gotten myself into too much, what is the reason for all of this anyway.

The halfway point often represents a transitional place within any significant event:

* Glass half-empty vs half-full
* Halftime of a game
* Halfway through a tunnel
* Halfway through the darkest night of our lives

What I also realized is that I cannot give up at the halfway point, because halfway is the beginning of the end. From the halfway point, you are closer to completion than when you first started. I realized that 1) I am too far to turn around, and 2) I am too close to give up. I also had to reconsider the reasons for why I started the process in the first place, and realize that my reasons for success must be greater than my current displeasure of the process. Finally, once I am finished, I can say that I accomplished something that NO ONE can take from me.

I also realized that the God I serve is a God of completion. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). As His child, I must show the same fruitfulness in my life, completing the works I have been assigned, just as I must submit all assignments and meet all deadlines as part of my graduate program. When I want to give up, these are the words I must hold on to: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

If you can get past “halfway there,” you’re almost there.

MathandLifeLesson #4: The Parable of the Variable

I want to first copy a portion of an email I received a few days ago.
” So, the past few days/weeks have been kinda rough for me.  I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotions, from anger to loneliness and so much in between.  At times I get frustrated because I want somebody to just talk to me, to just care, to just tell me that everything will be alright.  And then I realized, I’m not the only person in this world with problems, with challenges.  There might be somebody feeling like I feel, wanting somebody to just reach out and show them that they care.  So instead of my complaining that I felt nobody was doing that for me, I decided to do it for somebody else. That somebody is you.”

This one message motivated me to write. Saying thank you is great, but showing appreciation involves a little extra time and deliberate action. Instead of me simply offering my gratitude in the form of the words “thank you,” I felt it necessary to return the favor, and to encourage someone else.

So, the lesson… If you want to find the value of a variable, especially in algebra, you must find a way to isolate that variable. Several rules, properties, and axioms exist with the sole purpose of making this process possible. In life, situations will arise simply to make you feel as if you are by yourself. Yet, in isolation, the true value of the variable can be determined. Even if the result is negative, understand that the ABSOLUTE VALUE can never be negative (another lesson for another time…)… Also, many times you don’t notice your own value, but others can see the greatness in you. Sitting alone on one side of the equation, you cannot see the effect you have made in the lives of others, but everyone else who can see your life can see the greatness if what you are.

Don’t fret when life’s situations seem to isolate you, they are simply setting you up for the world to see just how much you are worth.  “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. – Psalms 139:14. While I was in my isolated place, someone else still saw something great in me. Keep living, and keep doing good, because even though you may not see it, you are making a difference in the lives of others.

You Alright?

DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN LIVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE WITHOUT ANY MORE TROUBLES?

…. neither did I. We understand that life inevitably brings situations that frustrate us, test our faith, and cause us to question what we believe. People will hurt you (intentional or not). Bills will be due each month. Sicknesses will come upon us and/or those we love. We will lose people close to us. Our integrity, our character, our moral standards will be tested. However, we must make clear decisions to grow past the pain. We must consciously decide that our destiny is more important, more valuable, and more powerful than the pain we are presently facing. We must somehow muster up the courage to say, even though we are in the middle of the storm, “I’m alright”.

Why can we make such a bold declaration in the midst of chaos?

1. Trials are temporary.  In Psalms 30:5, we are reminded that “his (God’s) anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” If you can recall the great “trials of the century”, one common characteristic about each of them is that they ENDED. All the drama… ENDED.  All the frustration… ENDED. All the emotional attachment … ENDED.

2. We are not alone. Even though many times we trouble brings us to a place of solitude, we have to remember that God is always with us to strengthen and keep us. Many have often heard the story of Job, and how he lost everything, yet he was able to declare “He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” (Job 5:19) No matter how bad it is, God is yet there. King David again reminds us that we can’t go anywhere without God being there (Ps. 139:7)

3. It’s all good. Romans 8:28 teaches us that “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Even in what you go through, understand that God is making you better. In Isaiah 48:10, God tells us that “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Remember, God will either make the situation better, or He will make us better.

I was having a conversation with my wife last night, and my oldest daughter comes into the room where we were. On her way back to her bedroom, she stubbed her toe. Obviously her response was “Ouch”. Yet right after that, she came back to say “I’m alright”. Quizzically, my wife asked “you’re alright, but you’re hurt?” My daughter’s response captivated my attention, when she said “I was hurt, but I’m alright”. Regardless of how deep the pain is, we must somehow elevate our faith to the point where we can say “I was hurt… I am hurting… but I’m alright”.

What’s your story?

Inspiration always comes from the most unlikely sources. As stated by my baby brother Raymond, feel free to tell your story. You have something to say that no can say quite like you. The world needs to hear from YOU.

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A few things I’m realizing about blogging: 1) It’s difficult to stay consistent.  The hustle and bustle of daily life, especially in a foreign country, can get me to the point that I can’t always find the time to write.  2) It’s hard to write, even when I do have the time.  I guess blogging is a little different from keeping a journal because a blog is meant to be shared.  At this moment I’m not blogging to become world-renown and to acquire thousands of followers, but at the same time I want to put out something that people feel it’s worth their time to read.  So what do I do when my time and creativity conflict with my desire to produce something tasteful?

I’ve come to this conclusion: 1) I have to make time for the things that are important.  This goes beyond blogging though.  I have to…

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You There?

I love hearing my wife’s voice. Period. So, sometimes, for no reason, I will call her while she’s at work, or while she’s away. I really don’t want to talk about anything in particular, I just want to hear her smile. Now, depending on where I am, or what’s going on around me, sometimes it’s hard to hear what she is saying. In order for us to fully understand each other, there has to be a clear line of communication. In order to make sure I can hear her heart, I sometimes ask the question “you there?”. To be successful, we must ask the same question. We must decide if we are in a place where we can receive vision and walk into our destiny.

English: A cell phone tower in Palatine, Illin...
English: A cell phone tower in Palatine, Illinois, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first reason I find that I have to ask this question is because we have a poor connection. Signal reception can be decreased due to poor weather, thick walls on buildings, or being in places where service is not normally provided. Life is that way at times. Storms, tests, and trials make it hard to hear God clearly. Past hurts and pains cause us to shut ourselves in, and shut Him out. Sometimes we are in places where only a few people are shining their light. In either case, we must not forget He is there. For he (Jesus) hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5). If there is a poor connection, it’s on our end. We must then make sure we clear the line. Somehow we must find a way to press through the clutter, and hear His direction for our lives.  Psalms 37:23 teaches us that “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way”. It goes on to tell us that even if that man makes a mistake, God will not cause it to be his demise.

To be successful, to achieve what God has purposed for your life, you must be there, on the line, waiting to hear from Him. Make sure you have a good, clear connection with God. Make sure He knows you. Make sure you are in a place where you can hear from Him. Don’t be so busy, or preoccupied, that you fail to answer His call.

If you are not where you want to be, first be THERE to hear from God. It’s a pleasure to hear His heart, and His smile.

MathandLifeLesson #3: COMMUNICATE

5/365: Quality Homework
5/365: Quality Homework (Photo credit: erinaudreychiu)

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege to spend a week reading student responses to the AP Statistics exam. The exam consist of 40 multiple choice questions that are scored by machine, and 6 free response questions that have to be “read”, so that’s where I came in. Along with about 635 colleagues, we had the challenge of reading approximately 171,000 student exams (which turned out to be more than 1 MILLION questions scored).

With so many professionals, there are obviously differences in opinions, however, the main job we had was to apply carefully designed rubrics to determine which responses deserved better scores. Often during the week, I found myself asking “what is this student saying? What were they trying to say? What did they mean?”… those questions are not that bad, but the dangerous area was when I began to think “well, maybe they were saying…”. What was so “bad” about this was that I was making a decision another person’s intent, instead of simply taking their words as they were.

I appreciate my table partner, who would constantly remind me to “stick to the rubric”, which means when a judgment call needed to be made, it cannot be made on what I thought, I felt, or what I liked, but what the ESTABLISHED standards for excellence called for. The final decision could not be based on my personal opinion of a response, but to how close it is to the rubric.

So, what does that have to do with communication? I realized two important keys to effective communication.

1. Say what you mean to say – speak clearly, stick to the purpose of the conversation, make sure you answer the question at hand. Do not put others in a situation where they have to question your intent, your motive. Also, be sure to actually say what is on your mind. There were many papers that were blank. I’m sure many of those students have an idea of what they were doing, but I will not know. Likewise, effective communication requires two people to actually express their thoughts, concerns and desires to one another.

2. Don’t read too much into the response – take what is said at face value. Although we can try to interpret reasons behind what was said, we must take the words spoken at face value. We cannot allow our own feelings and opinions cause us to distort our view of what was being said. We must make sure that before we judge what was said, we refer to our rubric, the word of God, for how we respond and deal with what was said to us. Before we condemn one another for words spoken that we may not agree with, we must make sure we are seeing through the eyes of God.  The Bible tells us that we should be “swift to hear, and slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Be conscious of what you say, what you hear, and how you receive. Class dismissed.

You Tired?

Kurzhantel untergriff 15kg0
Kurzhantel untergriff 15kg0 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One goal of mine is to lose some more weight, and get in better shape. I understand that the more that I’m carrying around, the harder my heart is working. I want to be in a position where I can fully serve my wife, have energy for my children, and generally be in better health so that I can do the things I have been called to do. As many of us know, there are two general types of exercise, cardio and strength training. 

I personally like neither one the best, because effective cardio training means that many times, I have to do something which seems mundane for an extended period of time before the POSSIBILITY of seeing results. I dislike the fact that weight training involves picking up heavy weights and  literally BREAKING DOWN your muscles, so that they come back stronger.

Have you noticed that the spiritual walk is the same way? The struggles we deal with in this life are designed to make us better, however, our first response is often to get tired. Tiredness causes us to forfeit what God is trying to perfect in our lives. Sometimes the issues we face will take a while for us to get through, and to get over. Just as a shortened cardio session will yield little to no results, so is the life of a Christian without patience. In Luke 21:19 (KJV), Jesus teaches us: “In your patience, possess ye your souls”. Don’t get tired too quick.

The other reason we get tired too quickly is that we carry around too much weight. In Hebrews 12:1, Paul admonishes us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Not only is it necessary to get rid of the ungodly ways and habits we hold on to, but also those other things that keep us from finishing. We have to get rid of the doubt, discouragement, disappointment, grief, unforgiveness, confusion, and frustration that slow us down, and make our “workout” that much more strenuous. Be careful not to let go of people while holding on to your weights, because you will still burn yourself out.

Remember that with God, we can do all things. Also, know that all things are working together for good. The trials and tests are simply designed to make us better, to make us stronger, to make us more effective in our callings. You tired? Let go of some weight, and keep running. 

You Scared? Well, Do Something!!

I recently took my children to Busch Gardens. Try as I might, I could NOT get my 7-year son to get on a “real” roller coaster, even though he is finally 48 inches. I asked him when he would be ready to get on the ride, and he said it was when he was old enough. I asked him how old that would be, and he said “13”. I even tried to convince him that he could use this experience to show his friends how mature he was, and how “cool” he was, but at the end of the day, his fear of height kept him from getting on the ride. A ride he has NEVER gotten on before caused him to be fearful, so instead of us spending a father-son moment together, and creating a lifelong memory of thrill and excitement, we continued walking around the park.

Now, not all was lost, as there was an area in the park, Dragon Land (or something like that) that consisted of basically a large jungle-gym type area. Imagine 5-10 year olds walking on rope bridges 20 feet in the air. You could imagine by this point, my wife was more terrified than I was. It’s interesting that BOTH my son and my 5-year daughter were scared INITIALLY to get on this rope bridge. So, as a good father, I made them go anyway, but I went with them. We walked across, they went down the slides, and would you believe it, afterwards THEY WANTED TO GO ALONE. I became one of those parents watching my baby girl suspended in mid-air, anxious because she was so high in the air, but proud of the fact that she was doing it on her own.

What’s the point in this story? Fear causes inaction, but according to David Schwartz in his book The Magic of Thinking Big, “Action cures fear”. He goes on to say that “hope is a start. But hope needs action to win victories”.  So, the next time you find yourself scared, do something. You’ll find that it’s often not as bad as you thought it would be.

When you are fearful of how a relationship will turn out, DO SOMETHING. Communicate. Plan a special outing for the two of you.

When you are fearful of financial struggle, DO SOMETHING. Check your budgets again. Find a creative way to supplement your income.

When you are fearful of something you don’t know, DO SOMETHING. Google it. Learn about what it is that has you scared.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to go about this life alone. Just as I, as a father, accompanied my kids up the steps to the rope bridge, God will be with us. In Hebrews 13:5, He reminds us that “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” God has equipped us with what we need to overcome fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that”God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

DO SOMETHING.

Busch Gardens Europe, Williamsburg Roller coas...
Busch Gardens Europe, Williamsburg Roller coasters Amusement rides (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You Finished?

I can remember growing up, my mom and dad would have these LONG conversations with us, usually over something we did, over a poor decision we made.  I can distinctly recall standing by the dresser in their bedroom, looking at my feet while they spoke to me, and thinking to myself “are you finished?” (though I would NEVER say that out loud). Even though I was the one in the wrong, I wanted for them to end the discussion, so that I would not have to keep dealing with the consequences, but so that I could also begin the path to making changes.

Life has a way of doing the same thing to us. We are given dreams, visions, passions, and desires, but somewhere along the way, we make certain decisions, and some of those dreams are postponed. Many go through life never seeming to accomplish anything. Even worse are those who start a lot of things, but never seem to complete anything. To those  who feel frustrated with your life situation, I will ask the same question that I asked (in my head) my parents, and that I’ve often asked myself; the same question that life often asks us… “ARE YOU FINISHED?”

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

When it’s all said and done, when this life as we know it is over with, please don’t be left singing the “coulda shoulda woulda” song, because by then it’s too late. Make sure you do ALL with this life that you have been called to do.  God has given you ALL you need in order to do what He has called you to do, and He has also provided you with what you need to be successful (Deut. 8:18). Don’t just be the type of person who can get the job, be the person who can get the job DONE.

4D movies, and making movements

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So Sunday I took a bus to Cheong ju for the day, and it was amazing.

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This was the biggest city I’ve been to so far, but it’s not even in the top ten largest cities in Korea.
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Besides the change of scenery, this trip was wonderful for none other than the food.  Yes, I ate Krispy Kreme donuts AND Popeyes chicken, in Korea, in the same day.  And yes, it tasted great.

My stomach was definitely happy, but this wasn’t even the best part of my day.  I went with a group to see the movie Pacific Rim, in 4D!  What is 4D you ask?  Well, pretty much the best thing ever.  It’s like those interactive shows they have at theme parks, but on steroids.  I’m chilling with my 3D glasses on, and 2 minutes into the movie my chair starts moving all over the place.  I’m…

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