This week, for most of our students, the conflict in Ukraine has weighed heavy on their minds. This is no surprise, as the Y14 students are such a peace-loving bunch. The students’ deep commitment to social justice, to inclusivity, has been one of the most inspiring things to witness in my time at The Link School. With something so shocking happening thousands of miles away, it’s evidence so available to anyone with a smartphone, it’s easy to infer they might feel discouraged, scared and consequently find it difficult to appreciate the joy of complex numbers.
“What is the point of learning about something that doesn’t exist?” is one of the most common questions you’ll hear in a class where students are learning the intricacies of complex and imaginary numbers. It’s such a beautiful subject, especially visually. We’re describing something so fundamental to quantum theory, our ability to understand the behavior of particles and structures in the physical world, that it mirrors the number systems we use every-day. The students learn arithmetic and a little algebra with this all-inclusive number system, they glimpse and manipulate its beautiful visual representations in 2D and a little 3D-space, but we’re hurtling toward physics that is so immensely complicated and arcane that its applications are left to the realm of computer processors and professors. So understandably, as we’re trying to understand basic addition and multiplication with complex numbers, the students doubt why they keep showing up to my class. I plead with them to appreciate the value of playing with ideas… “it’s brain training!”, I wave my Bluetooth headphones at them and ask them to please appreciate the calculations that are going on to allow me to rock out to Eagles. But ultimately, I understand their struggle. They want to understand how they can make a difference in this world, and this is something I’m immensely grateful for, they are inspired.
It’s clear that the generation that I have the privilege to teach wants to affect progress towards an equitable, free society and Putin’s actions are immensely more difficult for them to understand than complex numbers. So instead of alluding to applications of our learning in electrical engineering, we’ve used the same multidimensional thinking to investigate the concentric circles of our circle of influence and concern, discussed how the mindfulness we bring to interactions in response is our power, and meditated to allow our natural problem-solving mind to give way to Divine Mind. Personally, I believe sensitivity to a student’s emotional needs is the basis of equitable education. Dewey wrote in Democracy & Education (1916), “Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educational growth, something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.” I’m grateful the quality of thought is what we focus on at Link.
I want to give a special thank you to Hayley, Owen and Will for their willingness to support me on my path of difference making, they even encourage me when I’m fumbling to explain how the ratios of similar triangles form the basis of multiplication and addition in vector space.
– Ben Sleeman, Math Instructor