Discovering Antwerpen, Group, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Notes on everyday life, Set the beautiful mind free

Auditing a class at the university

Simon’s just finished auditing a class at the University of Antwerp. His first experience at the university came via a road less traveled. But then again, one may argue that we all walk the road less traveled because there’s no “normal pathway” that fits everyone.

Last spring, I shared a few videos of Simon studying at home and a couple of university professors in his MathsJam club mentioned he would probably enjoy a course in Complex Analysis (Calculus with complex numbers). I grabbed that opportunity and asked whether they would actually allow him to sit in the lectures.

Simon audited the course for one full semester (September to December), with me accompanying him to all the lectures to make sure he didn’t disturb anyone with his “youthful enthusiasm”. Before we arrived at the first lecture, I’d made it clear to Simon that we absolutely must remain silent in class. I wasn’t sure he would manage to control himself, for the main reason that had never managed to do so before, not even at the theatre. But then again, maybe at the theatre he sensed that the condition wasn’t as crucial. On our first day, I knew the professor was nervous about Simon possibly disturbing the class, I was nervous myself and I couldn’t believe how nervous Simon suddenly was. There was one thought nagging me: Have I spoiled it by my stern warning about keeping quiet?

Simon kept incredibly quiet. He didn’t even dare introduce himself. I had never seen him this way before. The professor was relieved, even elated. On my part, I was shocked by the high level of the course and whether Simon was too tense to tune in. The course turned out to be for college seniors; in Simon’s case, possibly a year or two too early. With Simon you never know. He always learns top down, and when I say “top” I mean Mount Everest top. “We try a couple more lectures and then see if it’s too much for you”, I told Simon.

The second and the third time, he was still quite nervous, but later he let go of most of that tension. Several times he got very bored, two hours felt like a long time for him to sit quietly. Still he said he didn’t intend to quit. And once, at the end of October, at the moment when I positively lost it and didn’t have any clue about what the professor was talking about anymore, he whispered in my ear: “Now it’s actually getting interesting!” During the break, he summed up the general idea about the zeta function and the professor said he understood it correctly.

I don’t like asking Simon how much he understands every time. I don’t think it’s a fair question to ask. We didn’t attend the practice section of the course because it didn’t match Simon’s schedule (the practice lesson started early in the morning and was impossible to combine with Simon’s late night classes from New York). Auditing a class doesn’t involve any compulsory attendance, Simon won’t be doing the exam. During the last several sessions, he was relaxed about being able to control the volume of his voice and sit quietly when necessary. It was at the uni that I heard him whisper for the first time! At the last lecture, he was treated to his favourite topic, the zeta function.

My general conclusion is that auditing a course has been a nice way to get exposed to what studying at the uni is like, even though we may have picked the wrong course in terms of difficulty level or in terms of what interests Simon at the moment (contrary to last spring, when he was all about calculus and complex numbers, he is currently investing most of his time into logic, computer science and computer electronics). He definitely still misses a lot of fundamental knowledge, especially in integral calculus, but by now I’m familiar with his learning style and know that he will come back to what he hasn’t dealt with properly when the time is ripe, at the new turn of the spiral, so to speak.

I know attending classes won’t be Simon’s primary source of knowledge as he learns best through self-study (mainly videos and books), but such experiences are definitely going to mean something both in terms of personal growth and mathematical thinking. “Do you want to audit a more fundamental calculus or integral calculus class here at the uni?” I asked him the other day. “No, of course not! I can just learn that on Brilliant!” he answered. “A course on sequences perhaps, as suggested by one of the professors?” – “No, I don’t want to”, – Simon replied.

Maybe we’ll be back at the uni at a later stage, with more practical discussion involved instead of passive listening, and in a subject/at a level he feels less timid to actively contribute to that discussion. What would also help is if there was a more official way to follow university courses for bright young minds like Simon. At the moment, it’s only possible as a personal favour or if I sign myself in and take Simon along, which contributed to Simon’s timidity and being afraid to feel present.

We’ll just be taking it one step at a time, grateful for the freedom that we have. My very special thanks go to Simon’s math professor who has a kind and courageous heart. He has also signed his newly published book for Simon:

Faculty of Mathematics in Antwerp
Can you see Simon?
Simon extremely nervous on the first day
Several weeks later, much more relaxed
“”Now it’s actually getting interesting!”
“I know where this is going!”
Discovering Antwerpen, Group, history, Museum Time, Together with sis, Trips

Red Star Line Museum

An amazing visit to the Red Star Line Museum this weekend! It’s a museum telling the moving story of the exodus from Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Red Star Line was a private passenger liner company that brought over 2 million Europeans to America. Simon enjoyed following the story of a 9 year old girl Basia Cohen who fled the violence and hunger in Ukraine in 1919 (well, maybe it was not the story that actually triggered his interest but the exciting quest involving looking for a suitcase in every hall of the museum and completing the tasks hidden inside the suitcase).

Simon and Neva posing for an extended family picture together with their cousins, in the style of the early 20th century family photographs
Simon reading Basic Cohen’s story out loud
Albert Einstein’s diary written aboard the Red Star Line ship
Albert Einstein’s letter of resignation written on Red Star Line stationary
Simon and Neva undergoing a pretend medical examination (eye test), just like the passengers of the Red Star Line
Another suitcase
Upon arrival in New York’s Ellis Island, the newcomers were obliged to do an intelligence test (a puzzle with wooden blocks). Simon has managed to complete the task, so he would have been accepted to enter America!
Simon listing a reason for why he’d like to immigrate to America. He was first reluctant to take part in this pretend play as he was afraid it would somehow turn into reality. This is a funny side of him, taking things too literally sometimes.
Discovering Antwerpen, Group, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Together with sis, Trips

Photons Trapped in Flemish Woods

Simon isn’t fond of magic or fantasy. Plus, he is not fond of long walks in the woods. Both “not fond of” are understatements. What was I counting on when I dragged him to the 2 kilometer long light installation in a forest close to Antwerp? I expected that seeing multiple fountains with photons trapped in water would make up for all the magic, scary music and the long walk. And it did!

 

Community Projects, Crafty, Discovering Antwerpen, Geometry Joys, Math Riddles, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Notes on everyday life, Simon's sketch book

Maths Jam in May

What a blissful atmosphere at Maths Jam Antwerp yesterday, full of respect, encouragement and acceptance. It’s an international monthly meet-up taking place every second to last Tuesday of the month, simultaneously at many locations in the world, three hours of maths fun! This was Simon’s first time. He solved two difficult geometry problems and showed some of his current work to the math enthusiasts who attended. Was hopping and giggling all the way home.

Discovering Antwerpen, history, Milestones, Museum Time, Notes on everyday life, Together with sis

At MuHKA

Visited the reopened museum of contemporary art in Antwerpen MuHKA this afternoon. Simon enjoyed a few graphical pieces, especially when allowed to take photos of them with my mobile.

DSC_0501

DSC_0506

Three pictures taken by Simon:

DSC_0504

DSC_0503

DSC_0502

DSC_0512

DSC_0522

Definitions of “the Truth”:

DSC_0520

In the children’s “Salon”, we loved the survival-on-the-Moon game: you had to answer the questions about which items would help you survive on the Moon.

DSC_0523

 

Crafty, Discovering Antwerpen, Notes on everyday life, Together with sis

Sinterklaas

An unexpected encounter in the Dutch Bergen op Zoom. Simon was so shy he went hiding nearly the whole time.

img_2467

Singing Sinterklaas songs with his sister Neva

img_2482

Neva asked Simon to read the letter Sinterklaas left her. It was written in difficult cursive, I was surprised Simon could read it well.

img_2480

Waiting for Sinterklaas on the Grote Markt square in Antwerp on Sunday

img_2454

img_2457

Mixing spices and making the traditional pepernootjes (spicy cookies that resemble nuts)

img_2447

img_2449

img_2451

img_2452