by Namrata Haribal
I was never the best at mathematics. In fact, I had always stumbled through it. So when I heard about the IB Diploma Programme’s mathematics internal assessment, I have to admit, I was scared. The prompt read: “explore mathematics in a real life area.”
In my first attempt, I tried to create a function that would compute the speed needed to beat the record time of a potato sack race using one’s height and weight. Due to complications in the equipment, my project fell through. This was discouraging. Concurrently, while reading Milan Kundera’s “Unbearable Lightness of Being” for my English class, I discovered:
His mother and the Platonic ideal of womanhood were one and the same.
I was also amidst resolving body image issues: I wondered how the perfect version of my face would look. Does a perfect face actually exist? Delving deeper, I found the work of a California-based maxillofacial surgeon called Stephan Marquardt, who created a hexagon based on the golden ratio. The lines of symmetry of the hexagon conceived a mask.
My key finding was that nobody’s face really deviates from the idealized perfection. This gave mathematical proof to the age-old saying “everybody is beautiful in their own way.” The deviations, which many would mistake for imperfections, give us distinctive facial characteristics that make us unique. The best part was that the realization had come through my own efforts, and not through others’ words of wisdom.
The project had other implications: it illustrated the impact of having a personal stake in my own education. That I found inspiration in my project made my experience immensely better. Rather than just doing mathematics, I experienced mathematics — and the effects were telling. I still know what the variables in a Gaussian function stand for, and I would still be able to recreate the process if needed. One thing was certain: finding personal relevance in my academics improved the experience overall.
Now, at Minerva, my current undergraduate institution, I regard assignments as opportunities for long-term growth rather than short-term projects. For example, as this past semester drew to a close, my peers and I had a lot on our plates — from keeping up academic performance and working on term-time internships to following through on passion projects, and filling up our schedules for the upcoming summer. As time passed, I noticed changes in the behaviour of my peers: some ate less, some ate more, some increasingly spent time in confinement, while others socialized like never before.
While anecdotal evidence suggested that these behavioural changes were manifestations of stress, I wondered whether this conjecture would hold true for the entire community. Because I did not have time to pursue an independent project, I decided to use my assignments to explore this interest. As a result, I turned to the Location Based Assignments (LBAs).
Minerva’s LBAs, much like the internal assessments in the DP, provide students the freedom to showcase mastery of skills through topics of their choice. My empirical analyses course had introduced methods of data collection, information upon which I built my mini research project. Over a period of two weeks, I administered a mental health survey to my peers.
Something that especially struck me was the extent to which I became attached to my hypothesis. I began looking at data selectively, emphasizing statistics that supported my speculation. Thankfully, our segments on meta-knowledge, self-awareness, and biases, from the aforementioned course helped me to detect the behaviour, and ensure I made proper conclusions. What had begun as inquisitiveness about my classmates’ wellbeing taught me much about myself and others. In addition to the insight I gained, I realized that being affected by subconscious biases is a normality; therefore, every day, we should try our best to overcome them.
Both of these experiences have highlighted the importance of taking initiative to creating one’s own academic experiences. My mathematics exploration illustrated the power of experiential learning. Amongst other things, my LBAs in empirical analyses helped me become more cognizant of the different ways subconscious biases affect me. In both cases, I experienced multi-dimensional growth.
Time and again, I concluded that personalization of a project elevates one’s learning experience by teaching unpredictable lessons. This, I have found, is the differentiator between schooling and education. Though I had once fearfully regarded my first experiential learning opportunity, I now actively seek opportunities to apply my learnings in a practical context.
Namrata Haribal is from Mumbai, India. After spending a year in France on a cultural exchange program with Rotary International at the age of 15, she participated in the Diploma Programme at Oberoi International School in Mumbai. Upon graduation, she began higher education at IE University in Spain and later transferred to the Minerva Schools at KGI, an innovative, global undergraduate program that includes nearly 20% of IB alumni in its student body.
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