Graphing Calculator: Maybe I'm Operating in the Wrong Mode


The graphing calculator: remember it? In a dusty corner of my mind, I remember what a pathetic failure I was at the graphing calculator. Thirty years later, my children are using the same machine. Technological eons have passed since my science classes, and my daughter is faced with the same convoluted calculator buttons. Buttons to find answers to hypothetical problems taking place in an imaginary vacuum (or at least I think that was what I was doing).


Since physics is legitimately difficult and college is now homeschooled, we are tutoring my daughter. I help in the way someone unhelpful "helps", which is, I stay out of the way and pretend to be sympathetic.


Besides me, everyone in my small crew has been actually helping her. Here is where the calculator enters. Her brother noticed she was putting the numbers into the calculator in the wrong mode. It wasn’t her math that was wrong. She was inputting the numbers in degrees instead of radians (or something like that). Her answers were never going to be correct, even if she understood the concepts and the equations. She had all the information and tools, but if she didn’t push that little button 8th from the left and ten down = failure. In physics, there are correct answers.


It started me thinking about more than college math because honestly I’m nonplussed by the subject. In life, there are usually a few right answers and the same amount of "wrong-ish" ones. Have I been using the wrong mode? Is that why I feel uncomfortable every time? One little button, one mode, one way of thinking or doing or being, and all the answers= failure. I can tell you it’s a humbly high number.


It’s so high, you might need a graphing calculator to figure it out. I put in the numbers for the situation the same way as last time, and am surprised by failure. It is as if I rely on my weakness to sabotage me over and over. You would think after all this time I would be self-aware enough to ask myself, “ Don’t you see impatience with yourself is stealing your joy while your learning this new thing?” I’m learning I need to check what mode I am using while learning new things: impatient comparison mode vs. humble learner mode. It would be a lot easier if I had a button for that.


I habitually misuse my antiquated machine despite knowing there is another mode. Or, mostly I do. Watching my children doing physics is helping. My son saw what my daughter could not see and he helped her get on track. Now she double-checks the settings before she starts the practice problems. That doesn’t sound too difficult to me, or at least easier than physics.


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