Patrick Ip's Learning Story


I just completed an eight-week intensive summer course at the University of Chicago— taking classes ranging from Sociology to Grammar to the Philosophy of Modern Mathematics. My Summer Math T.A. had called to inform me that my Math Professor had received heavy criticism. I was startled. If you asked anyone in our math class this summer, you would have been told it was the best class they have ever taken in their life. It wasn’t that we were learning about math, but we were learning about life—about how life creates math and how math creates life. It was true that he was unconventional, but that was his brilliance. He didn’t mind dancing around in class to explain coordinate geometry or empathize with the students when we did not understand the material. Instead of holding a teacher and student relationship, he made us feel like we were a team working together to understand Math. He invited us into his life and threw away the idea of the stereotypical definition of professionalism (that a Professor should not be friends with their students). We met at coffee shops to discuss math and/or life after class. He studied with us to ensure and created an environment where when one of us succeeded, it felt like we all succeeded together. He didn’t use a textbook, mostly because he believed that they were to restricting. He didn’t always stick to his lessons plans, because he would realize that he was creating something new in the middle of class. But these flaws taught us something new. By not using a textbook, he showed us that we could learn from anywhere. Because he would run tangents in class, he opened us to the power of ideas. As our class final, he asked us to develop our own projects based on the Math we had learned in the class. Being a Starbucks addict, my final concentrated on creating the perfect cup of coffee. It was a simple idea based on a complex algorithm that a group of Stanford Engineers had actually started to work on in 2005 (resulting in the creation of the Clover Coffee Machine). I had come to the realization that everything was Math. That even when someone spoke, they were placing mathematical variables together to form a set that could be later defined in a variety of surjections, injections and bijections. This Math class had redefined my idea of learning—that learning is limitless, contagious and everywhere. I think we sometimes fail to realize that we are always learning and that we should never limit ourselves to one idea (or one textbook as we often do in classrooms today) because we can learn from the universe and beyond. That it has never been a great textbook that changed our lives, but great teachers and great people.