To the Class of 2014

I’m so proud of you, OCHS ’14!

I wish I could be there for your graduation. But since I can’t, I’m holding a small ceremony right here, right now, on this blog, in your honor.

You spent the last four years making sacrifices. You forfeited sunny afternoons to homework. You stayed up all night to earn a C+ on a paper, knowing full well that another school would have given you an A just for showing up. You tucked in your shirt, or else incurred your teachers’ bottomless and inhuman wrath.

The school changed around you. Teachers came and left. Principals, too. Clubs appeared; soccer teams were born; the halls went from hospital-white to blinding yellow-and-blue. You watched older students vanish, one year at a time, and younger students arrive in hordes, until suddenly the school was scarcely the same at all. Through these last four years, only one thing at OCHS really remained constant:


Continue reading

Mailbag: STEM Stereotypes, Intellectual Inadequacy, and the Crocodile Tears of the Math Student

Every so often, I comb through the Google search terms that have led people to my blog. Then I reply to them as if they were letters. It’s a thing.

Q: top 100 romantic kiss photographs?

A: You must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere on the internet. Common mistake. Just reverse course and keep walking until you see a sign marked “Buzzfeed.”

Q: I feel inadequate that ive never taken high math.

A: In reply, anonymous sir or madam, I invite you to meditate on the opening lyrics from Disney’s masterpiece The Lion King:

From the day we arrive on the planet
and blinking, step into the sun
There is more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done…

This year I learned (or tried learning) to play the guitar, to rock-climb, and to write fiction. Next year I hope to travel, cook, and read more graphic novels. In college I studied cosmology, constitutional law, and evolutionary psychology. As a good friend recently told me, “You’re a dabbler at heart.”

But man, the things I haven’t learned yet! Continue reading

I think the SAT’s scoring system is gibberish.

Two weeks back, I wrote a piece at Slate (edited by the wonderful Laura Helmuth) arguing that the SAT should stop giving different scores to virtually identical performances. In particular, I advocate a switch from increments of ten (500, 510, 520…) to increments of fifty (500, 550, 650…).

The basic argument is simple: Reporting “510” and “520” as distinct scores suggests that they’re meaningfully different. They aren’t. When you retake the SAT, your score typically fluctuates 20-30 points per section on the basis of randomness alone. A 510 and a 520 are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable.

I’ve seen lots of thoughtful counterarguments to my piece—some strong, some weak, some dripping with that mucus-like film of nastiness that coats internet comment sections.

Now—to reply! Continue reading

Star Trek with Bad Drawings (by me, age 6)

EDIT: Apparently this is my 100th post! This blog has gotten a totally implausible 1.9 million views in its first year. Thanks so much for reading. Today, I pay tribute to my 6-year-old self by showing his bad drawings to the world as well.

I found these drawings in the basement of my childhood home. Apparently by age 6, I had already achieved 95% of my current drawing abilities, as well as developed into a pretty serious Trekkie.

I’m traveling right now, so rather than rap about math education, I’ll take this post to reflect on Star Trek villains. Don’t worry: my thoughts are as clever and provocative as my drawings are beautiful.

star trek - borg ship

Apparently my phonetic interpretation of “Borg” didn’t require an “r.”

The Borg were cyber-zombies, half-robot and half-humanoid. At age 6, they terrified me. They kind of still do. Continue reading

Descartes’ PB&J (or, the Clever Idea at the Heart of High School Math)

In cooking, the biggest breakthroughs come from surprising but natural combinations. Shrimp… and walnuts. Chicken… with peanut sauce. Cookie dough… in ice cream. Mouthwatering as the separate ingredients may be, the real magic happens when you throw them together. If you’re striving for complexity, excitement, and overriding deliciousness, then the unexpected harmony of disparate flavors is your holy grail.

And what’s true for the kitchen goes double for the math classroom. The best math explores deep connections between seemingly unrelated objects.

Take the coordinate plane. Continue reading

Nostalgia, in 5 Graphs

Tomorrow I’m moving away from the Bay Area, the only post-college home I’ve known. It’s been five years of good ice cream, bad pizza, adorable friends, and monotonously beautiful weather. I’m already nostalgic for Oakland, even as I’m excited for the British adventures that lie ahead (and overwhelmed by the boxes of books that gaze pleadingly up at me, hoping I’ll relocate them).

And what better outlet for nostalgia then graph jokes?

First, the chilling inner life of the non-nostalgic person:


Second, the tragic paradox of the nostalgic soul: Continue reading