Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ignorant vs Stupid

And not that you'd call anyone "stupid".

Maybe I haven't mentioned it more than 5 baZILLION times, but I'm SO excited to be at a 2 week training for "Digital Electronics" in the PLTW curriculum. I've been through 3 actual days of class time now (Thursday at 11pm), and it's intense but loads of fun.

Let's just throw around some terms that I've bantered about and slowly become acquainted with in the last few days: ohm, resistor, digital logic board, capacitor, analog, digital, light emitting diode, power source, switch, TTL, Boolean algebra, sequential logic, SOL, AOI, DE, valence shell, soldering, tinning, oscillator circuit, frequency, duty cycle (tee hee), time high, time low (hee and hee), breadboard, .....

If I could go back in time and read those words (say before last Sunday), you'd see this glazed look over my eyes combined with a fight or flight response of, "ackh! others know more than me, and I should know this, and they're saying it's obvious and oh no, let's switch the subject..."

Now, peshaw! I'm totally going to be throwing those words out at my next math party and be the hit of the evening, right?

But anyway, a typical day so far has been: get up at 4:30am in a panic because I didn't finish the homework from the last class(es). Do as much as I can before I hit the gym at 6am. Shower and have breakfast. Class from 8am - 5ish pm (with lunch). Dinner and unwinding for a couple of hours. Homework until 11:30pm until I crash, and repeat all over again the next day.

Anyway, tonight I had to create a "Voting Machine" logically on paper and in a simulation program before I took it to actual DLB to work. (so if you know what I'm talking about great; if not, you're me 4 days ago). One of the instructors was down in the common room helping us (8pm - 9:30pm). I was apparently doing something TOTALLY ridiculous on the simulation program. Sure, the theory I have down pat; it's logic and math. My paper version was all correct. The electronics .... (wait for it), I'm "ignorant on" at this point. Well, sheesh, that's why I'm here, to learn. I'm not stupid .... (obnoxious and anonymous brag alert) ... I have 4 math/applied math degrees .... (end of alert). But I am IGNORANT about electronics. Please don't treat me as if I'm stupid. Just explain it to me and answer my actual questions so that I can internalize and process the information (shout out to my instructor). ... To give him credit, in the end, I finally understood the issue (I think) .... hint: for a circuit to work that has an LED in it you have to ..... okay, you don't care.

The point is, "note to self", don't treat my students as stupid, and be sensitive about when you may be making them feel stupid when really they're just ignorant on the current topics. AND be very careful to answer the questions they ask, not the ones you think they're asking with all your filters of assumptions on what they get or don't get or can get or can't get.

Okay, what am I doing blogging when I have homework to do .....


  1. I know almost no electronics, but I would love it if you could explain what you were getting stuck on.

    (I've done some snap on circuits with my son, and I took a few classes so long ago it's total fog now.)

  2. Hi Sue,

    Sheesh, it seems like YEARS ago now, since we're basically learning/doing a whole year's content in about 9 days.

    Here's what I was stuck on. Apparently, I'd created a simulation that wasn't a closed circuit. And part of my confusion was that the LEDs had to be connected to "ground" and EVEN THOUGH the diagram doesn't look like a closed loop, just the fact that you're connecting it to ground when the power source is also grounded MAKES it a closed loop. My 2nd mistake was that I hadn't put a resistor in the series with each LED, and apparently this is a shameful NO NO. So I had to make my teacher explain the whys and hows of this.

    Did this make ANY sense at all?

  3. Makes sense to me, but then I did have a little digital electronics in grad school. I even ended up teaching computer engineering for a couple of decades, despite my plans to be a pure mathematician when I was a teen (well, ages 10-20 anyway).

    It can be very hard to separate ignorance from stupidity when something is not clicking for a student, particularly something that you have explained repeatedly in different ways.

    Digital electronics is pretty simple once you get the basics (9 days is pretty intense for that---I'd spread it out more), and it does make for excellent ties to discrete math (particularly logic and Boolean algebra). Have they given you Karnaugh maps yet? That is the one thing that I've heard engineers saying they remember 20 years later---it is such a pretty technique.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps:

    yup, K-mapping, Boolean algebra, multiplexers, flip-flops, asynchronous and synchronous counters, state machines, ....

    Oy! We've learned a ton, and it's not even over yet. And these are things I hadn't even heard of 1.5 weeks ago.

  5. Have you heard of Hooda Math Games yet? at, Check out their featured math games at