September 7 Day 183: Taking Inventory

Labor Day marks the end of summer and the start of the back-to-school season. By the middle of next week, almost everyone who attends or works at an institution of learning (with the exception of those few on the quarter system), will have returned to work. Some have been back in school for weeks already. Today, I decided to take an inventory of my summer.

I had grand plans:

  • Complete my multiyear labor-of-love book project Phoebe and Blaise: A Pattern of Correspondence.
  • Support local Tacoma Math Walks #TacomaMath through responsible socially-distant math walks.
  • Continue creating art in the medium of living light.

and less grand plans that included donning a mask, going out in the world, and catching up on Spring cleaning.

What was accomplished (so far)?

The team at #TacomaMath supported each other, learned a lot, and made math magic throughout the summer. We chalked numerous puzzlers around town in addition to creating mathematical scavenger quests with the Goose Chase app. We will keep the energy moving forward into the fall, connecting with mathematics teachers and creating new quests to align with planned fall curriculum standards.

I continue writing on my book. Progress is slow. There were other projects with firm deadlines that took precedence (like a post for AMS’s Living Proof blog, a co-authored submission to celebrate the AWM Semicentennial in 2021, a welcome recording for the (virtual) Project NExT workshop, a live closing for the Project NExT Savvy Silvers, and a recording about my experience with oral examinations. ) None-the-less, two more chapters have been completed; there are three remaining. After this post, it will be my primary focus for the rest of this week.

I only painted luxart plates once. Maybe it was lack of inspiration on my part, maybe it was from COVID campus restrictions for Mark, my husband and luminescent bacteria whisperer. Regardless of the reason, I was pleased with the results. The first two were for Mark’s virtual visit to Harvard (if you are not familiar with Dr. William Hinton please learn more) and the last three were to celebrate the late Terry Pratchett, co-author with Neil Gaiman of Good Omens, upon its winning the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form at the 2020 Hugo Awards.

Of my less grand plans, I have cleaned out my clothes closets, organized my dresser, added more organization to my home desk, and explored the local scenery on frequent walks with my husband. I have not accomplished everything I set out to, but I am satisfied.

What was lost?

Summer travel was reduced to the absolute minimum. No visiting family in the east. No in-person board meetings. No MathFest. Not even air-conditioned summer blockbusters on unbearably hot days.

I was looking forward to teaching in person—but even that is not going to happen now. It will be another quarter of black boxes and remote learning via Zoom.

What was learned?

Without in-person conferences to prepare for and attend, I took advantage of online opportunities to work on my personal growth. Special shout out to Matt Jones, Nina White, and Robin Wilson for a terrific Introduction to (Online) Inquiry Based Learning. And I can only heap praise on Rosalie Bélanger-Rioux and Sara Rezvi for their three part Conversations in the Math Community: The definition of a Mathematician; Microaggressions; and Be an Active Bystander.

There were other workshops, but these were the best!

I’m always picking up new skills for online teaching. Recently I learned how to use my phone as a webcam (the back facing phone camera has much higher quality than the integrated webcam on my laptop.) And did you know that your laptop mousepad and an old fashioned rubber stylus can simulate a writing tablet? It’s not perfect, but its far superior than trying to draw on Jamboard or annotate in Zoom with a mouse.

Oh, and I learned that COVID tests aren’t as bad as I imagined. Mostly they tickle and make you want to sneeze.

What do I wonder?

We hear a lot about students going back to college and spreading the dreaded disease. Many institutions have COVID dashboards where nervous parents can worry over the decision to allow their child to return in person. My question, how many of the COVID positive students are actually displaying symptoms? Surely that data is being gathered.

Mostly I wonder when I will get to meet with my students in person. I need to stop worrying and better focus on the coming work to be accomplished. Being on the quarter system, I have one more week before I am back on contract and three more weeks before I start teaching again. To maintain my optimism, I take a morning walk with my husband and look for beauty in the world around us. Sometime that beauty is natural, sometimes it is man-made, sometimes it is mathematical. Occasionally, you can find all three simultaneously.

Cover image: Sunrise and Mt. Ranier as seen through the Murray Morgan bridge in Tacoma, WA.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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