Ada Lovelace Day

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! Named for the woman widely considered the first computer programmer, this day has been set aside to highlight influential women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Bloggers: if you feel so inspired, create your own Ada-themed post and link it to the official website!

Of course, right now you’ll find infinitely more media coverage of a certain male visionary leader of Apple, and I certainly owe Steve Jobs some thanks for creating a portable music device that lets me switch playlists while I’m out running if my music mood changes.  (True story: until I got my first iPod in late 2003, I ran with a Walkman—a cassette Walkman—because a Discman skipped too much.) So for Ada Lovelace Day, I wanted to honor a female leader at Apple, a woman I could also thank for my beloved iPod.

However. Oh, Steve. Why doesn’t a single female appear in the ranks of Apple’s leading execs? Disappointing.*

Moving on. The woman I’d like to honor, incidentally, would probably have been a fantastic Apple contributor if that’s where her calc1career had taken her. I’m talking about my high school Calculus I teacher. (And yes, I’ve blogged about her before. She was that cool.) She was a master of taking something complex and giving it a simple, user-friendly  face. Evidence (from previous blog):

My Calc 1 teacher gave us blobs of play dough to mold and revolve while we were learning to find the volume of solids of revolution. To introduce the chain rule of derivatives, in which you unpack components one by one, she brought in matryoshka dolls.

The derivative f′(x) of a curve at a point is the slope of the line tangent to that curve at that point.

There would be many more examples if I had any idea where that calc notebook ended up after my last move! But suffice it to say that she made calculus interactive, relatable, and even funny at times. She made it fascinating, or at least allowed it to be fascinating by making it understandable. (More evidence: I liked it enough to take a third semester of calculus in college, when I could’ve fulfilled core requirements with any number of less advanced courses.) She also knew when to be no-nonsense. She commanded respect in such a way that the brightest (read: unruly) seventeen-year-old males didn’t often disobey. Not even during “silent reading,” those temptingly unstructured twenty extra minutes in which we stayed in her classroom. Yet she was mild-mannered, modest, and willing to have fun with us.

I honestly don’t know if she had set out from the beginning to teach calculus. But I am extremely grateful that she was my teacher. I dare say if I hadn’t known since sixth grade that I wanted to work with language, I might have ended up a mathematician. Thank you, Ms. Chin.

*I’m sure that brilliant women at Apple in less visible roles have contributed countless innovative ideas to the company’s most popular products, and I do thank them! Nonetheless, the all-male leadership team is a bit of a downer.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia