Writing Day 16 – Thank you James Tanton!

I recently subscribed to the The Great Courses Plus, so that I could bring myself up to speed on the Math needed to do my 12th standard exams.

All these years, whenever I’ve tried to teach myself trigonometry (or other people have tried to explain it to me) it has always been an exercise in frustration, followed by the general exhortation to just mug it up.

My brain sadly is not wired that way. I can and I will mug it up.
But I do want to know what the first principles are, so that I have the ability to derive what I need.
I need to understand.

Professor Tanton’s Geometry course was this eye opener for me.
I thought him slightly pretentious in the beginning, when he repeatedly says, he doesn’t know what the answer is … and then goes on to figure it out.
A few lectures in, though, and I’m suddenly a rabid fan of the approach.
Prof Tanton puts himself in my place and with glee, figures things out, just like a new learner would.
I find myself pausing the video, when he says he does not know and then try to figure it out just like he would (or rather he would, that I would … by slowly reasoning and being ok with mistakes)

His love for the subject shines through all he does.
There are ropes and knots and hand motions and sound effects (shoom!) and boards and screens and ugly drawings (just like mine) and folded pieces of paper and tiles and he bounces between all of them to explain stuff and make his point.

Here’s what I’m talking about.


This is one of my later classes, and I’m barely halfway through.
In fact, I’m at the point in lecture 18, where he tries to explain how to sum up two sines.

So why the gratitude rush?
Because Prof Tanton just lit the biggest light bulb in my head, and gave me my biggest a-ha, I’ve ever had in a long time.
Lectures 16 & 17 explaing circle-ometry, naturally leading into the basics of trigonometry, suddenly made sense of so much stuff for me.
All the advanced algebra I’ve been doing, the basic calculus I’ve been learning suddenly just “clicked!”

And there’s another reason.
He showed me that genius is not the norm for doing maths and science.
Persistence, slow methodical work, gentle reasoning and practice will get me there.
If James Tanton PhD. Mathematics, Princeton University, 1994, & Mathematician in Residence at the Mathematical Association of America in Washington D.C. does it this way, so can I.
He’s made me fall in love with maths.

And for that, dear Professor Tanton, I’m eternally grateful.

P.S.
Not to toot my own horn, but Prof Tanton responded :P