I Want To Be a Meteorologist Tomorrow, So Today, I Conquered Third Grade Math

Anyone who has spent time around me or who follows me on Snapchat knows I am fascinated with weather, natural disaster management, and science communication.  I have had a lifelong interest in meteorology, but I’ve taken quite an unusual path.

While the sixteen-year-old me who dedicated her science fair project to comparing folklore weather predictions to the forecast thought I’d *at least* be a local TV meteorologist by age 27, I’m still only a toe-deep into my journey towards mastering the atmospheric sciences (no longer dreaming of being the next Al Kaprielian, but perhaps a life serving my country with NOAA or researching clouds at a university). The last decade of my life has involved experiencing and recovering from mysterious/debilitating illnesses with physical and neurological symptoms, unhealthy relationships, sexual assaults, a head injury, and other difficulties that deeply rocked the core of who I am. These were not good life experiences to have while trying to learn chemistry and calculus, so I gave up on my science dreams and spent my late teens and early-to-mid twenties studying and working on gender, psychology, sexuality, and community health because I so wanted to understand the forces that kept me in pain.

While I was “good at” working in sexual health, I realized it was not sustainable for me to talk about the subject of my trauma all day, everyday. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still passionate about these issues, especially with respect to education and policy, but I’ve decided to limit my involvement to volunteering with the comprehensive sex ed program at church and connecting with lawmakers on important legislation rather than earning my bread and butter through topics that have been quite painful.

I am no longer living to understand the horrible things I have experienced but to make the most of the precious little time we have on Earth by protecting it from the human impact on climate change.

I am finding a mind once obsessed with figuring out where my life had gone wrong more interested in understanding greenhouse gases, learning about aerosol particles, and studying just why clouds form certain shapes in certain conditions. I decided last fall when a *cough* certain major political event scared me about the future of the planet that I’m going to chase that special interest in weather that comes back whenever I feel safe and comfortable.

Our planet’s pain is bigger than my own pain, and working on that doesn’t seem to flare up the emotional aspects of my own pain in the same way.

But how do you just pick up a career in sexual health, tech, and education and drop it into perhaps literal rocket science?

You head back to the basics and work up from there. 

If you had told me a decade ago that I’d be spending the summer of 2017 reviewing basic math to get ready for Calculus I, I’d laugh because I already had a year of high school Calculus under my belt and was scheduled to take Calc I at the college level as a high school senior that fall. But I didn’t do well that semester due to everything else happening in my life, and it’s been a decade since so here I am, working through all of Khan Academy’s math up to Calculus, and perhaps some math beyond it as well.

The best way to learn what math I need to learn is to demonstrate the mastery I know already. No matter how basic, no matter how simple, no matter how many milliseconds it takes me to do the problem in my head. I just need to show the computer that I know how to do it so it can find out what I don’t know and make sure I understand it before the fall. I’m patching all of my little knowledge holes before I resurface my mathematical skills for a successful semester.

So far, I have demonstrated my mastery in defining shapes, reading a clock, and taking a cube root. I’ve shown I can operate a number line, do prime factorization, and use the quadratic formula. When I do Khan Academy’s “Mastery Challenges” to show my strengths, I’ll get a subtraction problem you might see in third grade (which I’ll nail), followed by a polar graph question straight out of Calc II (which I haven’t even learned in a formal setting yet). Once I’ve done lots of general mastery challenges and it starts throwing me calculus beyond my understanding, I start working up from the lowest grade level that I have not yet achieved 100% mastery and see how many years I can master before I get bored and start writing a blogpost or something *cough*.

But today, I mastered the third grade, like kindergarten through second grade before, which involved demonstrating mastery on 104 skills. The only thing that tricked me up was the exact definition of a rhombus, but it’s a little third grade math skill I had forgotten that I’m glad I could patch up.

[Accessibility caption: a bunch of monsters partying. Text: “Congratulations! You’ve mastered 3rd grade.”]

Perhaps later today, or tomorrow, I’ll master fourth grade. Maybe, like the rhombus, there’s a little something I’ve forgotten, or I’ll learn some “New Math” shortcut that wasn’t presented to me in my first schooling days. Or perhaps that’s where the big math holes that stopped me from understanding Calculus actually are. I won’t know for sure until I master it.

When I’m not brushing up on my math, I’m keeping my eye on my goals by studying through JetStream, the Cloud Appreciation Society, the many meteorologists and local NWS offices I follow on Twitter, and borrowing resources from my local library. I’m keeping track of local forest fires and storms as they present here or in places with people I love. I can’t stop looking at the clouds. I try to keep my eyes to the sky and my feet grounded in the basics so once I get to the hard stuff, I can give it my best shot.

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 13.28.27

[Accessibility caption: screenshot of World of Math progress. Shows I mastered 396 skills, achieved Level Two understanding for 4 skills, and have yet to start 822 skills]

According to Khan Academy so far this summer, I have demonstrated a 32% mastery on the “World of Math”, and of the 400 skills from kindergarten to calculus I I have attempted, I have mastered 396 of them. I still have 822 concepts to try, and just over two months until fall classes start on August 28th. Let’s see how much I can demonstrate my mastery before then.

In excitement,

Althea

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