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29 Freshmen, One Junior, and One Really Old Guy

That’s the student make-up of the Calculus 1 class I am taking this semester.

And in case you couldn’t guess which group I fall into, I’m the really old guy.

It’s a strange feeling to go from teaching three classes and then hustling to the other side of campus so that I can sit in the back row of a classroom as a student.

I now have more empathy for students when they walk late into my class, telling me they have a class prior to mine on the other side of campus. Ten minutes is really pushing it. I’m also more aware of trying to make sure I don’t keep my students past the official end of class time, knowing that many of them may have a class they need to get to.

When I went to introduce myself to the teacher after the first day of class, I told him it had been almost 40 years since I had taken Calculus. He replied back “Four years?” To which I had to reply, “No, forty.” He seemed a little taken aback; I’m not even sure he’s that old.

You may be wondering why a 59-year old Accounting teacher is taking Calculus 1.

It’s part of a still somewhat fuzzy plan related to what I might do when I retire from teaching.

One thought I’ve had is to be an EMT, and I wrote last week about the Community Emergency Response Team course my son and I are taking. I thought the course would give me some clarity as to whether or not I should pursue the EMT license.

Another thought I’ve had is to do something with math and disadvantaged youth. I thought it might be helpful down the road to have some type of degree in math, and so I looked at what Villanova offered, and its Masters in Applied Statistics looked appealing. However, as part of the program, I need to take four pre-requisite courses – Calculus 1, 2, 3, and Differential Equations with Linear Algebra.

So that’s how I ended up in Calculus 1. I estimate it will take me almost seven years to complete the Masters degree, assuming I take one course per semester. That brings me right up to my estimated retirement time frame.

So far, the course has been challenging. It started off with a basic review of some concepts it seemed as if it was assumed we should know.  It seems for many of the students in the class that the material so far has been a review of what they had the previous year in high school, based on how few notes some of the students take. On the other hand, I can’t keep up, and by the end of every class I’ve filled several pages of my notebook.

I had completely forgotten what terms like sine, cosine, tangent represent (but in all honesty, I don’t think I ever really understood what they meant), what’s a natural log, or many of the algebra shortcuts I once knew.

So I spent a lot of time trying to brush up on those concepts, while also learning the new material. Fortunately it’s the only course I have, so I can devote a lot of time to it, and I have.

I’ve always loved math, and in fact I started college off as a math major, but changed majors during my sophomore year. It’s a decision I’ve often questioned, and so I view this period of my life as an opportunity to, in one sense, go back in time.

As noted, the course has been challenging, but I’ve loved it. The teacher is fantastic, the students I’ve met have been quite friendly (and curious), and one of them even came over to my office to give me some tutoring! Talk about role reversal..

I’ve even enjoyed doing the homework, which I doubt I said 40 years ago.

I’ve waited to write anything about this until after I took my first test, which happened the end of last week. I remember when I first took a look at it, my thought was “this is nothing like the practice test I worked on, I don’t know how to do any of these problems.” I gave myself a couple of minutes to calm down, and then started to work methodically through the test, and most of what I had studied started to come back to me.

I got back the results of that test today. I had told my students that I would let them know how I did on the first test, so I thought I would share it on my blog as well.

I scored a 91. It wasn’t as high as I had hoped, but not as bad as some of the dreams/nightmares I had leading up to test day.

To say the course has consumed me is to put it mildly. Hopefully things will start to slow down a little bit, and the material will start coming to me a bit more naturally. But if not, all I can say is that I’m glad I read Grit this past summer…

By the way, sine is the ratio of the length of the side of a right triangle opposite a given angle divided by the length of the hypotenuse. The cosine is the ratio of the length of the side of a right triangle adjacent a given angle divided by the length of the hypotenuse. And the tangent is sine divided by cosine.

That’s enough math for one blog, so I’ll hold off on explaining natural logs.

I also hope the title of this post doesn’t turn out to be the start of a bad joke, with me as the punchline…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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