Sunday, 20 July 2014

Group Theory Sucks


I don't like groups. That said, I predict that within ten years, everything is going to be happening in groups. In education, in our working life, in our personal lives, there's going to be a group mentality to all of it. Why do I predict this? Because of what I'm seeing.


It's the way groups form that disturbs me.

This doesn't have to suck. My fear is that it will. My question is whether you agree. Here's my reasoning.


1) Corporations Like Groups


Individuals are hard to predict. A group mentality is a lot easier to anticipate. (Shades of Asimov's "Foundation" series.) Corporations in particular like being able to categorize everyone into little boxes, so that they can then market things towards you. (All girls like pink, right?) This also gets them off the hook if a campaign goes badly because "everything pointed to that working, see?". WE'RE not the problem, it's your mixed signals!

This sucks. It means less new stuff is going to be tried out, because individual preferences are not "safe". It means we get more entrenched in our ways, perpetuating the cycle. It means minority groups may fall off the radar in favour of pushing towards the bigger groups (and "big" is being increasingly defined by money, not size). Which ultimately means that innovation will stand out more for being innovative than necessarily being good.


2) Backlash Against Individuals


The pendulum is swinging away from "everyone is a unique snowflake" and "everyone is a winner". It's moving towards "be a team player" and "you can't do it on your own". There is some truth to this. Networking is huge. You can't just walk into an interview any more, wave a university degree around, and get hired - everyone else is doing that too.

To actually get hired, you need more than marks. You need connections, you need to be able to work collaboratively, you need soft skills. You need to be boosted up into the spotlight by your peers, who act as your judges. Consider the case of Shinichi Mochizuki, who supposedly proved the ABC conjecture - but after 10 years of working on his own, no one understands his work. This is not a good thing. That said, the pendulum is going to swing too far.


Everybody betrayed me! I'm fed up with this world!

This sucks. It means that working by yourself will label you as "not being a team player". That having no social media presence becomes a black mark against you, since it implies a lack of social awareness. (Much like you need a credit card/rating these days.) It means people with social disabilities (like Asperger's) may be unfairly overlooked. Worst of all, people who fail will think there is something wrong with them, or their work, when the actual issue could be that they are not as extroverted as their peers.


3) Backlash Against Society


Politics is becoming increasingly polarized these days, at least in the United States and Canada. We're not so much voting for OUR candidate as AGAINST the other guy. (Which our candidate takes as carte blanche for doing whatever s/he likes, but that's another issue.) But it's not just politics, people are taking sides in issues of relationship and race too. For instance, if I now mention "NotAllMen" before "YesAllWomen" - will you be judging me?


We got into office based on ideology!
So, anyone have a plan?
Granted, the only way to effect large changes in society is with groups. Individuals may act as a catalyst, or a spokesperson, but you're not going to change hundred year old laws without support. There's also safety in numbers. More to the point, it seems like a lot of current issues involve changing the establishment. Which is creating more group mentalities. And while I'm all for change and equality... it's also created that polarization.

This sucks. Because our brains tend to remember negative things more than positive ones, one group often tears into the other instead of building themselves up. Media and big business also look for a "villain" who made a bad decision, in defiance of what we teach our youth - namely that we learn by making such mistakes. (Sometimes the "villian" is even the victim - seriously?!) Competition, while good to avoid monopolies, makes no sense here. Individuals are becoming targets, and scapegoats, due to group mentalities.


4) Too Much Data


SO MUCH DATA. It's impossible to sift through it all. So what do we do? We group it. We decide: These are blogs I can follow for statistics, these are ones for gardening. These are online stores/reviewers I'll trust, whereas these ones seem to have bad reviews. The internet is only too happy to help too: "You liked watching X, maybe you'll like XX too!" But when was the last time you searched outside your groups? Or for an intersection within two groups? Heck, when was the last time you went past page 3 on a web search?

This sucks. It can very quickly boil down to "These are people who support my viewpoints, these are people who do not". (When was the last time you disagreed with someone on Twitter?) Grouping also makes it hard for newcomers outside established groups to make a name for themselves. It even makes it hard for some people INSIDE established groups to speak up, once the group is large enough. In short, Cliques Are Inevitable, and I hate cliques.


ALTERNATIVES?


Groups don't HAVE to suck. There's one concept which was introduced to me this past year, which achieves many benefits of groups (diverse opinions, societal change) without a lot of the downsides (cliques, getting set in your ways). Randomized Groups. Constantly changing the members and the voices. I'm still trying to figure out how to implement it in a more traditional classroom setting. (Randomized group seating for lectures?)

Of course, I'm not sure how well that works outside of an educational setting. I could claim I'm doing it here, in that this blog is all over the place - but then, the voices in my head do not constitute a group. Perhaps if we randomize your blog readers or news feeds every few weeks? But then not only would people start complaining, corporations would freak out without their targeted advertising. Almost the same way people now freak out over a lack of individual rights - even as the same politicians keep getting elected.

Maybe if we instituted "Randomized Wednesdays". A day when you have to interact with a different group. Actually, it would probably be better if it was a different random day for everyone, as you can't see what the other guy is doing if he's not there. I suspect some of you are stressing out at the mere thought of this.

"People can be very frightened of change." (Kirk, ST VI)


Whenever groups integrate, add the constant.

It comes down to comfort. If you know the people around you, their likes and dislikes, you will not only be able to serve them better, you will also feel more comfortable. It's when you're put into an unfamiliar situation (like a random group) that you become unsettled, uncomfortable, even unpleasant. Which is when you will probably cling to the familiar, to the comfortable. Because we've been told that to be COMFORTABLE is to be HAPPY.

THAT is what really needs to change.

Which is, perhaps ironically, why I should try to do more with groups... because I don't like them. Fine then. I have less than ten years to get comfortable. Any suggestions from the group?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Buy A Yearbook


It can be easy to focus on the negative. I read somewhere that this is because long ago, if you missed a negative thing, you'd be dead. Attacked by a tiger or whatnot. However, if you missed positive things, this would not impact your life - only your enjoyment of such. Along those lines, the other day I posted about how the previous school year kicked my ass.


Let's pretend the last episode never happened.

Time to talk about what went right... and how sometimes you have to go a little out of your way to generate it.


1) RECORDS


I've mentioned how I like to make these. In the end, I recorded all the PD I attended. Four events in Semester 1. Later, two conferences plus a network initiative. Also, Triangleman's Decimal Institute. Also, every single one of the ExploreMTBoS missions. Writing the posts forced me to reflect on elements of teaching more than simply "in the moment". I also had some commentary - and support - on the posts. Not always from where I expected it.

I've come away with a bit of a noisy head. But there's some elements in there I can use personally and professionally. And while I'll be the first to protest that all this is not strictly connected to the day-to-day teaching, neither is all the extra-curricular stuff I do. So it counts.


2) COURSE REVISIONS



I taught MAP 4C for the first time, and I don't think I totally mangled it. (Props to JP Brichta, Mary Bourassa, and Michael Lieff for materials.) I also tried doing more with the "Spiraled Curriculum". In particular, since blogging in January, I revamped the 3U order again: Functions w/Exponents, Equivalence w/ Rationals, Periodic, Exponentials, Parabolas w/ Inverses, Sequences, Triangles, Finance.

I feel like the order wasn't bad, but the execution was garbled. Even so, a student who lost out on a lot of the last month and half of the course... had already seen most of the big stuff. So that was a benefit. (The other person teaching the course took a different tack too, starting with a few weeks on Sequences - ones that cycled through all main functions.) So I think I have a sense of how to TEACH even though I still have little sense on how to EVALUATE.


3) SO THAT HAPPENED


Small things. Important things. Like when students give you anime suggestions. Or suggestions for the date (which I write mathematically different every day). Or links to statistics articles. Or when a senior drops by to talk about how they're doing in math, with a fish. Or how:
-One guy in my math club (of two people) solved one of the CMEC "Problem of the Week" in an interesting way. I submitted it. The folks over there were so impressed that they included his solution in the writeup.
-There's a trig identity I haven't proved, but I include it on the handout every year anyway. One student solved it this year, writing up a solution for me to keep. (Guy also got the highest mark in that course that I think I've ever given...)
-The MDM statistics course I do has one unit with lots of definitions. One student created a set of cue cards, terms on one side, definitions on the other. I thought that was brilliant, asked her if I could have them when the course was done. She made me my own set of 25. Used it 2nd semester.
-When I sang "O Factor Tree" at the Christmas assembly, a number of students joined in on the chorus. (I love a good chorus.) I don't think I was totally aware of the scope, being up there, but other teachers commented on it to me after.
-I help with the student play/musical every year. In the background, which I find is where I prefer to work. Last year, there were mumbles of some card for me "lost backstage". This year, I got one, with an illustrated image on the front, signatures inside, a Tim Horton's card and some chocolates. Whoa. There may have been tears. (Though not at the time.)


4) BUY A YEARBOOK


It's the title of my post for a reason. If I were only able to give one piece of advice for someone starting to teach in a high school, it would be this: Buy a Yearbook. I now own 12. (Not including any from when I was in school.) It's not only good for the memories, it makes for a handy place to toss cards or paper keepsakes.


Use the book for the good stuff.

In the beginning, I never got tons of signatures. Last year, instead of only having it in class, I put the book out into the hallway so that students could write in it after they finished their exam. If they wanted to. I did the same thing this year. Optional. Granted, there are always some people I seek out - students I didn't have in Semester 2, or who I only knew through extra curriculars, or teacher colleagues who were retiring. I usually get 20-30 signatures.

This year I got 40.

I don't even know how that happened.

Most mention the songs. That seems to be my thing now. So even if the web serial is done with, I guess I should spend time this summer getting together new material. I'm also going to share just a few snippets of remarks now, with the names filed off. Hopefully the students won't mind.
-"Thanks for a good time and relative dimension in space." (Math is bigger on the inside.)
-"Thanks for becoming a teacher, you are pretty good at it." (I keep hoping.)
-"You're a great teacher, teachin high school ain't easy." (Truth.)
-"Well you didn't teach me any classes this year, but I definitely learned lots from you this year!" (The play's the thing.)
-"I figured you may enjoy my data pres. You did I think cuz you smiled!" (I'm sure I did; the cover page for his stats report was also amazing.)
-"You are honestly so much fun! I'm so glad I got to know you my last 2 years of high school!" (Hoping I left a good impression of math along with myself.)
-"You truly made math interesting and I was looking forward to your class every day. Never stop teaching. :)" (Apparently the people have spoken...)

So. Despite the time away, the late assignments, and my inability to grade tests in anything less than a week... one could argue that's not what stays for the long term. As perhaps it should be.


SUMMATION



I'm still taking a year off. I want to write more. I want to READ more. I want to see if someone else can come up with better stuff for teaching Data Management (statistics), as I worry I'm getting stale. And as it turns out, I'll be teaching seniors (Gr 11 & 12) again next year, so when I'm away for 2016-2017, they'll be heading off too.

The year kicked my ass. But it also kicked my heart. As such, I'm going to conclude this post with a belated soundtrack to sum things up. If you don't understand my metaphors, don't worry - you're not alone. Still, buy a yearbook.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Year of Hell


The school year 2013-14... it KICKED. MY. ASS.

It's not quite as bad as the "Year of Hell" header implies (that's a Star Trek Voyager reference) but it's NOT something I'd care to repeat (get it?). I cried in December, and I don't usually cry unless I'm watching a sad movie. A colleague had to help mark some of my exams in January, which is when I posted "seriously considering falling down the stairs as an 'out'". In May I experienced Teaching Paralysis and by the end of June I was watching clips of a psychotic anime to boost my mental state.


Kill me now

The hell happened here? It's never felt this bad before. Bizarrely, other teachers I follow seemed to be struggling too - though there may be some confirmation bias, in that I saw what I expected to see. Still, I'm in Canada, so the "common core" issues weren't the source... what was?

Here's the post that's been forming in the back of my head for two weeks. Feel free to read it - or alternatively visit WWNDTD or Justin Aion for possibly more relevant end of year deliberations.


1) EXTRA CURRICULARS


Normally, I co-ordinate the Cappies, help with Drama, supervise the Anime Club and coordinate the Math Contests/Math Club. That said, last year (2012-13) the Ontario Liberal Government decided to enact the "Putting Students First Act" rather than allow teachers to bargain sensibly - I blogged the details of the whole sad story. The upshot was that I didn't do most of that stuff then, because it was basically the only thing over which teachers retained any autonomy.

So this year was a restart for half of that. Did that make it a bit more taxing? Add to it the fact that our Drama group is now going on a trip to Edinburgh in less than a month - and there was (and is) some additional responsibility there too (though I left most to our dept head). Too much? I don't think this will be a factor next year, at least. But it's something to bear in mind.


2) PERSONAL LEAVE



I take hardly any sick leave or personal days. Traditionally, I take two days in May to go to the OAME (Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators) conference, where the last three years I've also presented. This year, Semester 2, I also took a day to go to CMEF. And two half days to deal with/recover from the musical. And four half days plus one period (all on release time) to participate in the Cross School Math Networks. Even looking at Semester 1, I was away for two days (PD, one in school, one with heads). It all adds up.

I've previously mentioned how being away for a day causes more work. While I would say that being away was incredibly valuable in terms of the insights it helped to give me, there WAS a toll to be paid. In particular, of those EIGHT days, only a HALF DAY was actually me taking time to relax. (I think I had one sick day too.) This in a school year where there's never any snow days to catch your breath. I think I'm going to have to cut out elements of Professional Development next year.


3) LATE WORK


For some years now, it's been my policy that if a student is stressing out over a test (for personal reasons), or they were away for part of the unit, and they bring a note from home, I can defer the test to after school or another day. Similar rule if they're away (for a reason other than a field trip). This is usually not a big deal, saves me making multiple versions, and I tend to work late so don't mind supervising a couple students after school.

DEAR GOD THAT BACKFIRED THIS YEAR.

One test day I had *OVER 25%* of students absent (across two periods). A few were on a field trip. A few had appointments or the like. The rest had notes (even then, at least a couple didn't, meaning even more follow-up). I had SIX people writing in the hall the next day because they "couldn't stay after school". I had people saying they "would write Friday morning" (the school's standard 'makeup' time for missed tests) but this meant I had to go through a bunch of paperwork to leave the test/formulas with administration.

I WAS NOT IN MY HAPPY PLACE.

But even when I WAS DEDUCTING from the Summative my seniors had to hand in, I still had LESS THAN HALF of those in on time! I actually went off on my Data class when we had presentations that were not ready Friday AFTER THEY WERE DUE ON MONDAY. (The first suggestion offered by one was to have larger penalities.) I'm going to need new policies. I hope I can still somehow accommodate any student who had a death in the family without leaving the floodgates open for anyone who "didn't have time to study".


4) NEW GRADING


-November 2012: "It's killing me."
-January 2013: "Forget about sleep ... forget about eating ..."
-June 2013: "I mark QUANTITATIVELY not QUALITATIVELY, damn it!"
-January 2014: "Grading on standards is the single biggest reason I am considering leaving the teaching profession."
-May 2014: "I see my practical traits, and my meticulous and detail oriented nature becoming a hinderance rather than something of any use."
-June 2014: "It's little things ... which keep me from wanting to kill myself. And I'm honestly not sure to what degree I'm exaggerating there."

This is the big one. Always has been. Think it always will be. At the risk of grandstanding, take whatever struggles you're experiencing with "not grading on points" and double them to get near to where I am. It's like I've been given two sets of mixed up IKEA furniture with no instructions, and told to "eyeball it - use your professional judgement".

Can I do it? YES. Is it killing me? HELL YES.


This image from "Beyond the Farthest" sums it up.

My colleagues have seen my struggles and approached me. I want to delve into one particularly interesting suggestion. Mark individual students. Normally, I mark all page 1, then all page 2, etc... then I would go back and spend an extra TWO HOURS figuring out individual marks (rather than 15 minutes totaling points). Instead, the suggestion is to mark all questions for one student, total, and move to the next.

Problem: My brain actively RESISTS this.

When I'm marking, I'm looking at the details, at what makes sense for each question and what pieces went wrong. When I'm totaling, I have to completely switch my brain over. I need to look at the broad strokes, to assign an overall level to the whole expectation. Instead of doing that once, I'd now have to do that 30 times, once for each student, and my detail brain in particular dislikes being interrupted. It was suggested to mark in sets of 5 or 6, so that I'd only have to switch over 5 or 6 times. Maybe. Even that I have trouble parsing.

But obviously I have to do something. Last semester, grading one set of 3U tests EASILY took me over five hours, with time to individually record results onto student placemats too. And I got them in sets of two. Though never a complete set because of absent students. Anyway.


REDESIGNING EVALUATIONS?


Another colleague said a 4 page test with 10 questions is way too much. Fair enough, I somehow need to front-load this with less questions that are somehow richer. Something else I'm not good at... I work best in a framework, not redesigning from scratch. Similarly, when I test two expectations on a test, I'm mentally driven to actually assign a mark to EACH expectation. (And it does make sense to test a couple expectations at once, if for no other reason than so that students have to decide which one applies.)

Alternatively, yet another colleague taught the 4C course last year using tasks almost the whole way through. No tests at all. Tasks are effectively one (or two) activities or prompts that students need to work with - I've given some, and I AM able to mark through those per individual student. Because it really is only one question. (That said, I tend to do a preliminary pass, shuttling things into two piles, those who seem to get it and those who don't. Because order and logic.)


That last is maybe an option if I give frequent tasks, somehow. Reinvent myself, again. But even then my brain is wired for individuals, where all the research says that group work is becoming necessary these days.

The act of simply analyzing all this is making me want to cry.

Give me a moment. Need music.

Food for Thought: Almost every teacher dislikes, or struggles with, grading. Thus it can seem like you're simply one voice among many. I'm here to tell you that it IS possible that you're struggling MORE.

Okay.

One thing at a time.

Next year, I'll figure out a way to not grade individual expectations, or at least to not record them that way. I used to do things that way, it just feels incompatible with this new system. I'll also figure out a way I'm happy giving tasks for some units, rather than tests. If I can, hopefully it will ease up on the volume. I STILL need to determine how to test individuals when everything is now a group mentality. That last continues to baffle me. Suggestions welcome, though I seem to have a bad track record on being able to implement suggestions.


Also, hell with it, I usually avoid name drops... but shoutout to Anne Fitton, Corinne Davison, Denise White and JP Brichta because without them I don't think my sanity would be intact right now. Also for folks on Twitter who helped keep me grounded. This is a long, long road for me.


SUMMATION


I'm taking a year off. Not next year, because we have a system in our board whereby I can take reduced pay for two years, then take the third off for the pay that got held back. So 2016-2017.

It's as much about having more time to write as it is getting away from school. My web serial cut back from twice per week to once per week in January, and now it's on permanent hiatus. I've written less in the last 6 months than I did during the single month of July in 2012. That also bugs me. If I'm not writing, how can I continue to pester everyone with my random nonsense?

Whatever. Next post will be about positive things. I promise.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Time Trippers: Chapter 7B

QUICK CONTEXT:

This completes Chapter 7A, at that link.  You can also read the history of my time travel story at this post last year. Also online, the first part of Chapter 1. The remaining chapters are not currently online.  There are 45 of them in total.  Feel free to comment below or email me, mathtans@gmail.com

In particular, I'd appreciate knowing if this part of the story went at all like you expected it to.
____________________



TIME TRIPPERS: AWARENESS


CHAPTER 7: DOUBLETAKES (continued)


"Hello?  You okay?" came a tentative voice.
Carrie moaned.  Everything looked black, but after a second she realized that was because it was still dark outside, and her eyes were having some trouble focusing.  She blinked them a few times, working at determining where she was, and who was speaking.
Carrie quickly discovered that she was sitting on the ground, propped back up against the trunk of a tree, with her arms tied behind her.  There was a person crouching down next to her.  It was... herself.  A Carrie double.  "You're... you're my... who are you?!" Carrie demanded as she realized that up close, her assailant looked a little older and had softer facial features.
The other girl took a fumbling step backwards at Carrie's tone.  "Well, well, I could ask you the same question!  Did you really think I'd let you take over without a fight?"
Carrie stared.  "What the hell are you talking about?"
"About your impersonating me in front of Ms. Peabody!" her companion challenged.  "How long did you think you could get away with it?"
"I never planned on impersonating you," Carrie said in irritation.  "In fact, if you want to turn yourself in for the jewellery theft, please be my guest."
It was Carrie's captor's turn to stare.  "Jewellery theft?" she asked nervously.
Carrie rolled her eyes.  "Yes, the one your Ms. Peabody tried to arrest me for an hour or two ago," she elaborated.
"You... you stole her jewellery?!" the other girl gasped in horror.  "How COULD you?"
"No, *I* didn't do it, I just got into town!" Carrie said in exasperation.  "I'm assuming you did it!"
"I would never do such a thing!  And what do you mean just got into town, you've been impersonating me for the last two months, spoiling my chances at stardom!  Tell me, please... did... did I do something to you that made you want to ruin my life?"
"Look, time out," Carrie asserted.  "My name is Carrie Waterson.  I don't know you, I don't know Ms. Peabody.  I haven't been in this part of the country for the last two months.  If you're looking for some evil lookalike, it's not me!  Are we perfectly clear on this?"
"I don't understand."
"Well I really can't make things any clearer.  Suppose you run your story by me?  That might help clear this mess up," Carrie proposed.
The girl sized Carrie up before speaking again.  "I... my name is Beth Parker," she admitted a bit warily.  "I'm hoping to become a singer.  When I started looking for work last year, I met Ms. Peabody.  As it turns out, my voice and looks were perfect for a set of commercials her company wanted to do!  Unfortunately, it was a little low on funds, so we pooled our resources together in order to launch the effort."
Carrie mulled the name 'Beth Parker' over briefly in her mind, but couldn't think of anyone by that name in her family tree.  So the resemblance could be a fluke.  More to the point, the blonde’s story seemed to have a natural extrapolation. "So, what, someone else took your place at some point, running off with the proceeds?"
"Exactly!" Beth affirmed.  "See, the company we were running inexplicably vanished one day.  But I had some money hidden away, enough to track Ms. Peabody's whereabouts.  I caught up with her earlier today for the first time in two months - and she said that she'd been dealing with me the whole time!  That I'd authorized the dissolution of the company, that we were currently working together on some whole new plan!  She said I should take a little walk then come back by the hotel at 6pm, at which point we could deal properly with the situation."
Beth narrowed her eyes as she continued.  "I was a little late, and saw someone who resembled me escorting a policeman inside.  That was YOU, wasn't it?  I kept watch.  And when I never showed, forcing you all to run off in your search party, I tailed you.  Admittedly, I lost track of you, but then noticed that you'd lost your hairband, thus was hoping you'd come back for it.  Now just what have you done, stolen Ms. Peabody's jewellery to make me look like a thief??"
Carrie let her head fall back against the tree behind her with a quiet 'thunk'.  "Oh boy," she mumbled again.  She had a suspicion as to what was going on here now, namely that Ms. Peabody might not be as legitimate as she claimed to be.  But exactly how was she going to prove that?  And could she convince Beth of the situation without revealing she was a time traveler?  Carrie unexpectedly found herself at a loss for words, with no idea of where to begin.  If only she had more time... which was when the idea hit her like a bolt of lightning.

A deck of cards.  He should make sure to stick a deck of cards in the backpack, Frank decided.  It would be useful during times such as these, and provide more entertainment than squinting at a compass needle.  With a sigh, Frank tossed the compass aside, resuming his stargazing.  It was about all he could do at this point, particularly with Carrie still having the flashlight out there somewhere.  Where was that girl anyway?  Checking his watch, Frank discovered that she'd left well over an hour ago.  This was starting to make him quite uneasy; he'd been writing it off up until this point as Carrie's stubborn resolve to find her hairband, or perhaps to avoid him.  But what if she was really in trouble?
"Should I go after her?" Frank mused aloud.  Yet what if she was just lost, and he was the one who ended up getting into trouble looking for her?  Besides, she had demonstrated that she could handle herself.  On the other hand, what if she had been hurt somehow?  Frank finally decided that he couldn't just keep sitting here.  He stood up with a sigh and hefted the backpack, preparing to head out after her.  "Carrie, you'd better be in trouble," Frank declared.
"Well, thanks, Frank," Carrie retorted.  Frank spun to see her approaching him through the trees.  "Nice to know you care."
"Carrie!  You're all right!"
"Sorry to disappoint you."
"But I didn't mean... that is..."  Frank sighed again.  What was the use.  "Never mind.  Find your hairband?" he asked wearily.
Carrie pursed her lips.  "In a manner of speaking," she responded, suddenly looking defensive.  She cleared her throat.  "You see Frank... it appears that it was our destiny to come back here to 1955 in order to help a young girl named Beth."
Frank blinked.  "What do you mean?"  He paused.  "Oh wait a minute, if you mean what I think you mean, it's not our part to get involved..."
"Yes, well, in fact it's a bit late for that," Carrie admitted.  A strand of hair found it's way into her hands and she started twirling it.  "Because, ah, in some sense I know that I've already done what I'm about to do anyway."
It took a second for Frank to process that.  "Oh no.  No, no, no, Carrie... I'm not liking where this is going..."
Carrie smiled and made a vague hand gesture.  "Guess what, Frank!  There are now two of me here and there are two of you here!  The other me is the one who helps Beth, before going back with you to the present.  The other you has gone to join the two of them even as we speak."
Frank pressed a hand to his head.  "Then... you're a Carrie who's come back.  Back from the future."
"It was the best solution I could come up with," Carrie conceded.  "I needed proof of some shady dealings that I couldn't get while in this time period.  But look on the bright side, in a way we're validating your theory of self-consistency!"
"I can see that being a reason for me to tag along," Frank mumbled.  "But all the same, Carrie, I think we're long overdue for a discussion on the ramifications of temporal paradox."
"Oh, honestly Frank, you worry too much," Carrie assured.  "Now come on, I'll give you the highlights of my plan."

"You're sure this is going to work?" Frank whispered.
The Carrie whom he’d taken this trip with nodded in reply.  "Our future selves provided me with the important details, everything will work out perfectly."
"Uh huh," Frank said, dubiously.  "You're also sure Beth won't clue in that we're time travelers?"
"Yes, Frank," said Carrie patiently.  "When your future self arrived with the necessary documentation, showing Beth that Ms. Peabody had been engaging in illegal activities, your present self wasn't anywhere around.  When I got Beth to go along with this scheme on account of that, my future self was still with you.  Then we waited until Beth left before your future double traded places with you so Beth never saw any doubles together at the same time.  Our future selves have now gone back into the woods.  No problem!"
Frank ran a hand back through his hair.  "Riiiight."  He paused.  "But what if we said whatever we did just because it's what we said last time, which is... this time.  Meaning things could still go wrong, we'd just be lying about it when we became our future doubles..."
"Frank!" Carrie said, her hands unconsciously forming into fists.  "Will you stop already?  You're actually starting to make me nervous!"
"Okay, okay," Frank said, raising his hands defensively.
Carrie peered at her watch, which read 9:55.  "Damn," she muttered.  "Damn, damn.  Where is that Beth?  That policeman is going to leave the hotel again if she waits any longer."
Frank cleared his throat a bit uncertainly.  "Er, I think that's her now," he indicated.
Carrie turned to look back around the corner of the block, watching as Beth walked up to the front of the Clayton hotel.  Carrie grinned.  "Showtime!" she announced.

"Officer Strickland," explained Mr. Clayton, "All I know is what I was told over the phone.  Someone said that the case of the missing jewellery would be solved if I got you and Ms. Peabody back here at the main desk for ten to ten."
"Well this is pointless," snapped Ms. Peabody.  "It's obviously a ruse set up by the thief to give her a chance to escape.  If you'll excuse me, I have other affairs that need tending to..."
"Ms. Peabody, please!" Strickland said.  "At this point, we're a little short on leads as well as manpower for a search, so there's no harm in following up on this, is there?"  He glanced at his watch.  "Though I must confess that if nothing happens in the next few minutes, perhaps we should be on our way..."
Beth chose that moment to walk through the front doors of the hotel.  Her appearance was greeted with varied degrees of surprise on the faces of the people present.  "Hold it right there!" the officer advised her, approaching quickly.  "Why have you returned?  Are you turning yourself in?"
The blonde at the door blinked uncertainly.  "What?" Beth inquired.  She turned.  "Ms. Peabody, what is going on here?  I took that long walk as you suggested and am afraid that I got lost.  Is it too late to discuss our Lyon Estates company?"
Ms. Peabody met Beth's gaze evenly, finally shaking her head slightly.  "I can't figure out if you're even stupider than I thought, or finally doing something smart by giving yourself up."
"I'm not sure I understand you," Beth said, biting her lip.  "After everything we went through last year, are you really going to let me get arrested now?  Is this really how you're going to conclude our association?"
Officer Strickland frowned slightly.  "Ms. Peabody, do you know this girl?"
There was a pause before Ms. Peabody shook her head again.  "Aside from the time I saw her steal my jewellery, I have never seen this girl before in my life."
"Then it's true," Beth choked out.  "It's all true.  God, I've been so naive!"
The law enforcement officer glanced from Beth to Ms. Peabody and back.  "Unless you have a real alibi for about 4pm today, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to come with me," he finally concluded, stepping towards Beth.  Mr. Clayton had already moved around to block the doorway; which meant he was caught quite off guard when it then opened behind him.
"All right!" Carrie announced.  "I give up!  I'm turning myself in!" she declared, striding into the lobby.  Her arrival elicited both surprise and confusion.
Mr. Clayton rubbed his eyes.  "There's two of them!" he declared disbelievingly.
"Great scott," exclaimed the officer, looking back and forth between them.  "Er, Ms. Peabody, these two girls do seem remarkably similar.  Can you say for certain which one was involved in the theft?"
The woman struggled for a moment to regain her composure as she looked back and forth between Carrie and Beth, finally raising a finger to point at the latter.  "It... it's her!  The other is too young looking."
"What are you talking about?" Carrie retorted.  "I just confessed to the crime."
"All right, hold on a second here," Strickland said.  "Let's keep this orderly... first of all, let me get your names for the record."
"My name is Carrie," said the girl in the blue hairband.
"And I'm Beth," Carrie asserted.
"That's a lie!" Ms. Peabody argued.  "Officer, they must be working together, they've reversed their names."
"But I thought you said you'd never seen me before," Beth murmured softly.  "So how do you know what my name should be?"
Ms. Peabody opened and closed her mouth.  "Because!  It was that girl by the door who identified herself as Carrie earlier today," she countered.
Carrie spun.  "Mr. Clayton!" she challenged.  "The girl Ms. Peabody is referring to, what was she wearing?"
"Euh, well, dark pants, pink shirt, blue hairband... what that girl has on right now I believe," he answered, indicating Beth.
Carrie nodded and turned back to Ms. Peabody.  "In other words, the girl currently claiming to be Carrie looks almost exactly like the girl who was claiming to be Carrie before.  To know that this girl is, in fact, Beth... well it almost implies some former association with her."
"Childish nonsense!" Ms. Peabody sputtered.  "Officer, these two are obviously in league together, I want you to arrest them both!"
"Now hold on a minute here," Strickland replied slowly.  "That is a potentially interesting point they've raised."
"I know more," Carrie noted with a smile.  "Ms. Peabody has been behind several scams running in nearby towns.  She was lying low here.  This whole jewellery business has been an attempt to get poor Beth out of the way long enough for Peabody to finish tying up loose ends before fleeing the country!"
"I don't have to stay here and listen to this!  You have no proof of anything you're saying!"
"Actually, I do," Carrie responded smoothly.  "First of all, there's currently an airplane ticket among your possessions.  I also have here a financial statement, which shows that a lot of money, including Beth's, has been routed to an account in Switzerland.  Plus I have a list of five names, all of whom will probably make good witnesses at trial."  She handed the necessary notes over to the officer, inwardly praising the detail of the articles that her future self had produced.
"Interesting," Strickland acknowledged, scanning the documents in question.  "And as a matter of fact Ms. Peabody, I have been keeping my eye on you the last few days.  After all, we don't get many rich folks around these parts, and you've been making a lot of phone calls.  I believe I will look into this... very carefully."
"You meddling little tramp!!" Ms. Peabody blurted out to Carrie, fire in her eyes.  "Just where did you get all of this information?!"
Carrie pursed her lips.  Now came the tricky bit.  "I am receiving it through divine intervention.  For you see, I'm a guardian angel."
Mr. Clayton did a doubletake.  "You're... you're an angel," he repeated disbelievingly.
"Oh well see, that does it, case closed, this girl is insane," Ms. Peabody retorted.
Carrie haughtily brushed some hair back off her shoulder.  "On the contrary, I shall now prove it by departing from your plane of existence," Carrie asserted.  "Frank!"
'I can't believe I'm going along with this,' Frank thought to himself as he entered the lobby.  'I really can't... I'm not even positive that the machine has regained sufficient power...'  He suppressed a sigh.  'But at this point, what else am I going to do?'  Frank smiled wanly at everyone before setting the device down on the floor next to Carrie, keeping a hand on the lever.
"Now then officer, I trust that I can leave this matter in your very capable hands?" Carrie concluded.
"Er, yes, but... just a moment here!" Officer Strickland objected.  "I must insist that you not leave the area just yet.  You may be required as a character witness.  The situation has not yet been fully resolved!"
Carrie smiled.  "It will be.  You can say you got those records from an accountant by the name of Tiff Bannon."  She crouched down next to the time machine and took in a deep breath.  "My work here is done.  So... 'bye now!"  Carrie gave a little wave, reaching back with her free hand to yank down on the lever along with Frank.  There was a bright light, a popping sound and both she and her companion disappeared.

"What on earth?" gasped Mr. Clayton, running over to the spot where they had been and rubbing his eyes in a daze.  He then proceeded to run to the main doors and peer outside.  "They're gone!  Oh man, oh man.  I'll never be able to repeat this story to anyone, they'll think I'm nuts."
Ms. Peabody hmphed, edging back towards the stairway.  "Well, if the show is over, I think I'll be on my way."
"Not so fast," officer Strickland challenged, regaining his composure.  "As I said, this information will be looked over in detail.  And regardless of it's, er, source, I'd say your future is looking pretty grim!  Mr. Clayton, please restrain Ms. Peabody in your office until I can contact the requisite authorities."  Clayton nodded, moving to comply.  "And Miss Beth, you'd better come with me, there are some questions I'd like to... Beth?"
Beth was still staring in awe at Carrie and Frank's point of departure.  "She really was an angel then," the blonde choked out.  "Both of them were.  I mean, she said it before, but I never really believed it.  My God, I actually had angels looking out for me!  It's... it's almost enough to restore one's faith in humanity, isn't it."  She slipped off the hairband she'd been wearing and looked down at it.  "If only I'd had some way to thank them."

Somewhere back in the woods, Frank absently shuffled his deck of cards.  They still had an hour or so until the time machine regained enough power for their next trip.  "You know Carrie," he said suddenly, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you."
"Oh, what NOW, Frank?" Carrie sighed.  "I mean, despite the fact that some of the evidence was deemed questionable, Ms. Peabody will still be convicted and given a jail term of 25 years.  Mr. Clayton will take Beth on as a worker in his new hotel, allowing her to raise enough money to launch herself on a little singing career.  Despite our theatrics, our research indicated we'll barely be a footnote in the time period.  And if your question is going to get us into another quasi-religious debate, I'd rather not go there."
"It's not any of that," Frank retorted.
Carrie folded her arms.  "What then?"
"It's just... based on what we learned, it was technically Beth Parker's own fault she was taken advantage of, owing to her being too trusting of the wrong person.  So... somehow, I wouldn't have expected you to have much sympathy for her.  Yet you still helped her, all the while knowing that she couldn't give you anything in return.  Why?"
Carrie paused at that.  "I needed a way to get her off my back," she eventually replied.  "Besides, I got to put on quite a performance too."
Frank cleared his throat uncertainly.  "That's the only reason...?"
"Frank, if you don't shut up, I'm going to make you walk funny for a week," Carrie grumbled.  Still, much as she hated to admit it, he had a point.  It wasn't exactly like her to shell out such time and effort without more of a payoff.  However, by putting something right that might have otherwise gone wrong... it did give Carrie the strange feeling of a job well done.  Besides, it had technically only come at the cost of her preferred hairband, and in the grand scheme of things, a hairband didn't matter all that much.
Right?



=====
The hairband reference is a link to Chapter 6. What with time travel being a central element, there's a lot of plot connections between otherwise individual chapters. This is the only chapter that actively parodies "Back to the Future". If you think the story is terrible (or great), please let me know in the comments, or @mathtans! Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Why I Post


Everything you do should have a purpose. Whether it's writing, teaching, getting groceries, listening to that song on loop, petting the cat or making the bed. Maybe the purpose is simple relaxation. That's fine. As long as there's some reason you're doing it. That's the way my mind works, anyway.

It makes me curious as to the purpose YOU had behind starting to read this post. And if you feel like giving up partway through, comment below, let me know why.


Am I boring you?

Now, I don't want to analyze every little thing. I want to focus on things we do repeatedly. What we do so often it becomes a habit, or hobby. Because something must be drawing you back to that thing. What? Is it the same thing that got you started in the first place?

I'm going to self-analyze why I've been writing posts this month. Please tell me if any of it rings true with you too, or if I'm truly alone in the universe.

What is comes down to is, I like to write.  A lot.  (A lot more than I read, which I need to work on.)  But why do it?  Why write?  Why post?  Well...


WHAT DO YOU WANT?


1) I WANT RECORDS.  I often kept a diary when I was young. I still have most of my high school notes. I have a directory on my old computer full of roleplay log files. I've had this blog going now for almost two years. How often do I look back at these things that I have written?  Rarely.

I will if I'm reminded of something, and want to check on the details or to reminisce. For instance, in writing my "Classroom Evolution" post I had to look back to find out when I first changed things. When I wondered whether I'd ever been taught finance, I looked back into my old math binders. I've looked back through old diaries too. But usually, the records just sit there.


This will make sense later.
Maybe.
So why did I write them? To gather dust? Surely not. It's partly for reflection -- but that's always in the moment. It's partly because I'm hoping to find out whether others saw things the same way -- but there is no guarantee of response. So mostly, I think I want records because I'm particularly good at writing them. At summarizing, at distilling important content. People have remarked on this to me, both professionally and in roleplay. I don't know exactly what it is I'm doing (only you can tell me), but for me there is enjoyment to be found in recording things, and knowing that others enjoy reading those records.

This is probably why I have had the job of secretary through multitudes of committees over the years.

2) I WANT HELP. Possibly help making a decision. Possibly help with a specific issue I'm having. Possibly psychological help. One doesn't need to post publicly to get that help either, because the very act of writing can sometimes help to clarify things. Not always, but sometimes.

This particular post fits that category. I'm trying to find out what makes me tick, what makes me happy, and why I perhaps don't feel like I'm there. So, why puzzle it out in public, where you can read it too? Partly to see if others face the same struggles -- because that's always somewhat comforting. Partly to see if my experience is able to help you -- to give you some data you wouldn't otherwise have. But I think mostly it's to keep me accountable. Once it's out there, I can't pretend that these concerns aren't happening. I can't pretend that I'm not thinking about these things. Because now other people know.

But this is all non-fiction. If there's one thing I've come to understand about myself over the years, it's that I'm big on fiction writing too. After all, I wrote a serial for three years. This is where it gets interesting.

3) I WANT TO PROVOKE YOU. I want to catch you off guard. I want to make you laugh or flinch when you least expect it. I want to shatter your expectations as I say this post isn't category 2 at all. I want to be that song that somehow gets caught in your head at 11 o'clock at night which keeps you from getting to sleep because it's just that bizarre. For good or bad, I want to be your narrative earworm.

I also don't really want to do that in my non-fiction, but the non-fiction is what gets the most views.


You're welcome!  Wait, what?

Now, don't get me wrong.  There is definitely something to be said for a reality based post that shakes a person out of their complacency, gives an unexpected perspective, or makes you question the status quo. I like to think I've even written a post or two like that myself. But provoking people with my reality... there's an equal chance it will instead end up combining Higurashi with Exam Deadlines, connecting to the "most alarming tweet ever award".

I'm not sure that's the best plan.


WHO ARE YOU?


I am the terror that flaps in the night.  I am Locutus of Borg.  I am the Walrus.  I am Canadian.  I am living in a box.  I am that soundtrack link you should have just clicked.  I am this mashup that you never expected either.  I am... bic pentameter!

See, some people write posts hoping to start a discussion. Some write to educate. Some write for the challenge, the reflection, or with the hope of eventually being published. Deep down, I'm none of that. Some may even write out of boredom. I can't live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion... and imagination! That is not who I am!

What I'm saying here is, if you're writing, it's important to have a good sense of not only why you're doing it, but who you are. To know what you're bringing to the table. For instance, something I'm damn good at is making unexpected links. Which makes me good at my job, as I can usually take mental leaps, and follow student logic. (I should probably spend more time on mathmistakes.) This ability is also one of the best tools I have to provoke people, as it works in fiction or non-fiction.  My other tool being unexpected plot twists.


Time Loops! I have them!

Where others may have the goal of blogging to inform, I see myself as an entertainer.  Yet sometimes, I wonder if I'm only entertaining myself.

Because the paradox is that I don't want to stand out.  I don't want to be chosen for a command.  The thought of having people I don't know asking me for my opinion on things worries me, since I don't see myself as an expert, more a jack of all trades.  I don't want to have my work analyzed by pundits or professionals, only by friends, and I certainly don't want to become too predictable in my output.

Is that just me?

What this means in terms of my writing is that you, as the reader, get something different day by day. (You might have noticed the mood whiplash in my posts all week. If not, where have you been?) It's like going to the grocery store and finding it's been replaced with a primary school. That's not what you wanted. Maybe you won't come back.


I've seen that somewhere...
Of course, we all change. When you think about it, we're all different people all through our lives, and that's okay, that's good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. But my regeneration period is a bit haphazard, and if you stick it out, my prior incarnations may come back when you least expect them.

I'm kind of surprised this style has garnered over 500 followers on Twitter. Thanks guys!

To sum up: I am a niche market. But in a sense, we all are. Because the only person who can understand everything behind your words is YOU. The question is how to make the majority of what you present worthwhile for everyone else.

From that MY question is, if I aim to entertain, how I can get people on board for it with fiction? Like "Taylor's Polynomials"? If it's not an event record, and it's not a cry for help (not directly, anyway)... what brings you to the table? Anything? Why do YOU think I post?

Part 2 of my time travel chapter goes up tomorrow. I'd be curious to know what, if anything, provokes you to read it. And whether having your plot expectations altered (if we presume they are) is a good or a bad thing. FWIW, Part one is here.

Closing thought: If you caught even half of the references in this post, and you have some initiative you're working on, I'd like to see it. Because maybe we're on the same wavelength. Also, picking up on the reference in the two subheaders means you win the game.


Here's a hint.