Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Helicopter Moment

You may not have heard the term “helicopter parent.” It’s a term professors use to describe parents who are “involved” in their children’s college education, i.e. those kids who call their parents when they walk from class to class.

Cal and I had a serious helicopter moment today. We have two kids, Luke and Ariel, who started college this year. We were a little more concerned about Ariel since she started college a year early. Most parents I talked to who had a child who started early, especially a girl, admitted that they were fairly protective of their child.

But I was actually doing pretty well. Okay, pretty well for me. I didn’t talk to the kids while they were at classes—if they called between classes I said, “Do you need something because I’m busy?” Though I listened with great delight to their stories over dinner.

But this morning, Cal discovered Ariel’s calculator on the floor. This wouldn’t be a huge deal except that Ariel has a differential equations exam this morning. DE is a class from the nether regions. The prof? Suffice it to say I’ve blogged about him before.

Given that Ariel has a history of last minute preparations, we assumed she forgot the calculator. We mulled the options: Ignore the find and hope things went well, hope she could borrow a calculator from the prof (though I’ve heard horror stories about students who forget calcs), or bring her calc to her.

As we pondered, I said: “I’m not sure she needs a calculator for DE.”

Cal said: “What do you mean? It’s a math class.”

Me: “Yeah, but I don’t think they actually do much with numbers. I think it’s weird alphabet math.”

Cal: “But what if she needs it?”

We called her cell. Sadly, her phone was off. Deciding it’s better to be safe than sorry, we drove down to UTC. I navigated the convoluted corridors of the Engineering, Math, Computer Science (EMCS) complex of buildings. When I found the class room, I looked through the glass windows. Heads were bent over sheaves of paper. But only about ten heads. Ariel told me there were 25 students. I guess a lot of students dropped the class after the first exam. The prof, who curiously did not have horns, was reading a book. He noticed me. I held up a calculator. He nodded, and I walked in. Not a single head looked up. I slipped the calculator onto Ariel’s desk. She glanced at me and said, “I didn’t need it.”

I left quickly. I haven’t heard from her yet. I’m considering blaming it on Cal.


  1. Har har... Alphabet Math...

    Someday in a billion years, somebody is going to invent a (reasonably cheap) calculator which easily and quickly performs Alphabet Math...

    ...And then the world will explode because of it.

  2. Well, there are calculators that do some alphabet math. But they're really expensive, and none of the professors will let you use them on the test. Texas Instruments has a calculator (TI-89) that does derivatives, and integrals too I think. Of course, that would only be a small portion of a couple of the DE problems, but still, the TI-89 sort of almost does some "alphabet math." Although, I think it can only do it with one variable, so I guess it doesn't really count.

  3. Yeah, I forgot to bring my scientific calculator to my Chemistry final, for which actual number type calculations were required. I just did it all in my head. Still got it all right, just more nerve-wracking.

  4. "I didn't need it."


    But, hey, that is a whole lot better than bringing training pullups to a slumber party (luckily, not from first-hand experience).

    Grace Duke

  5. What was all that?
    Also, there is the TI-92 which has an operating manual that has to be a couple hundred pages long. I believe the 92 can draw three dimensional graphs.

  6. Wow. I have no idea what all this graphing and math-y talk is, but it is sure impressive! My calculator can there.....

    Grace Duke