When I was in college, I held 3 part time jobs, of which one of them was tutoring Physics. Not that I was an expert or anything, but someone had to do it. Most of the time I spent the tutoring hours working on my own assignments. All of it is just a blur now, except one person, a nun. She was determined to make a passing grade, and she started coming in about a third of the way through the semester. I quickly figured out that algebra is kind of important to physical laws like F=mA. It seemed so simple to me, so intuitive, so I started out rattling off what force was, mass, and how acceleration played a part. The glazed look in her eyes told me I needed to step back a bit. So we began exploring the mathematical relationship. Again, glazed eyes. I was losing her, and I needed to engage her where she understood what I was saying in order to move forward. I was at a loss as to how to break it down any further, but I figured that teaching her basic algebra was in order. But the concept of dividing each side of an equation to cancel out units when solving for acceleration, for instance….was not familiar ground for her. Grabbing a package of M&Ms, we started by visually understanding the concept of equivalent sides, i.e., what does “=” mean? After 3 one hour sessions, she conquered F=mA and went on to get a passing grade. She taught me more than I taught her, though.
As engineers, we go too fast sometimes. We can assume that even other engineers know as much as we do, and if we are not watching we can lose them and no one wins. One of the things I love about open source is the willingness of others to slow down and explain things. Well, on a forum “slowing down” translates to “repeatedly explaining something in different ways until the person gets it.” Open source helps in other ways, as in how open source hardware can enable others to achieve their goals without investing hours to understand all the aspects and gotchas of a specific technology. A wireless shield (expansion board) with accompanying software enables others to use wireless communication in a project without having to understand details about RF design or the optimum placement of capacitors and traces. And so the joy on the nun’s face when she came to tell me she passed the test was worth the time and frustration to pull her through to understanding. A ‘D’ was all she needed, and I have no idea what she did with the rest of her life, but helping her to ‘get’ what seemed so easy to me was an education in patience and in giving encouragement that I couldn’t have gotten in the classroom.
Lynnette Reese holds a B.S.E.E from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Lynnette has worked at Mouser Electronics, Texas Instruments, Freescale (now NXP), and Cypress Semiconductor. Lynnette has three kids and occasionally runs benign experiments on them. She is currently saving for the kids’ college and eventual therapy once they find out that cauliflower isn’t a rare albino broccoli (and other white lies.)
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