Friday, September 22, 2006


I'm tired.

It's been a long week.

It's been a long semester.

And we're only one third of the way through.

This week's been rough on a lot of folks. I know of several tough classes in which there were exams this past week. I've seen a number of glazed-over looks and catatonic stares, and attendance has been low in all of my classes, especially today.

Friday. Wonderful, wonderful Friday.

It's been a rough week on me, too, I have to admit. Two fifteen-hour campus days started things off, followed by three only-slightly-shorter 11 hour romps. Mathematical action from dawn until dusk. I'm glad I've got an insuperable supply of energy, I've had to draw on it this week.

I knew I'd be putting a lot of effort into this class. I'd tried to front-load it as much as possible by doing a good deal of the planning before the semester began, and to a large extent that planning's paid off: I've had less to do on the fly than I would have had I not put together beforehand a goodly portion of the projects and class activities, much of the documentation, and a boatload of resources. Still, though, there are some midcourse adjustments to be made, a few wrongs to be righted.

What's gone wrong so far?

Nothing big, really. Minor missteps, here and there.

For instance?

For instance, I've been overestimating how much we can "cover" in a single class period. Given the more open, bidirectional format of the course, the exchange of information is certainly not as "efficient" as it would be were I standing at the board lecturing the whole time. I'm just now getting a feel for how many in-class exercises we can cap off before Doctor Bob's unofficial class clock strikes 3:35ish.

I also underestimated the difficulty some folks would have in reading the textbook. I know it's a dense read, my friends. Most upper-division math texts are, especially the first time around. I'm thinking back to the first math text I had to really read (Richard Strichartz's The way of analysis, the basis for my first two semesters of real analysis): though I now find it a better-than-average text for its topic, quite funny in places and very lucidly written, I know at the time that I was first reading it it might as well have been written in Sanskrit.

Nevertheless, the text is a decently good one, as linear algebra texts go. It does a fair job of clearly developing the necessary theoretical points while saving time for more mundane computations. And I hope the "Key Points" slides I've been providing in class have softened the textbook's blow, and that our time in class has helped to clarify any obscurities encountered in the reading.

If it's any consolation to my students, reading math doesn't necessarily get any easier: you can't imagine how many times I have to read every page of some papers in order to understand them as well as I'd like to.

Still, as hard as the reading can be, it's crucially important that every one of us does her or his best to keep on top of it. Quite frankly, the in-class exercises (which are meant to be challenging, but not heinously so) will be much more enjoyable for those who've done the reading and have prepared themselves for class. Should one expect to do at all well in a literature seminar centered upon a certain novel if one has consistently gone to class without first reading the book? I hope the answer to that question is "no."

All in all, I think that I'm doing just about all that I can to make things go smoothly.

What more can I do? So much of the class is up to the students, I can only go so far.


Well, well.

Well, I'm off to read a few of the journals submitted on-line.

Tonight, and then tomorrow, and then...and then tomorrow again. Then we'll start anew.

Yes, I'm tired.

More to come.

Meanwhile, let me throw out a question to my students: how many of you out there in linear algebra land would like a shot at leading the class discussion for ten or fifteen minutes? What would you do with that time if I gave it to you to use? I really would like to know, feel free to write!


Anonymous said...

i'd freak out. i can't talk about math... i think i'd simply give the class something to work on for most of the time and then check it together before time is up.. haha, that would spare me!

*starting to panic* that reminds me of that presentation we'll have to give at the end of the semester... at least i won't be standing all alone out there! and maybe i'll somehow present with the group without talking, i guess i can compensate for that somehow.

Aaron said...

I would not be comfortable leading a class discussion. I think there are some in the class who would be great at this but I myself am not confident enough in my linear algebra abilities to lead a class discussion. My team could pull it off, but I think I'd have a difficult time in helping contribute to my team on this one.

The final presentation is scary enough for me. On top of that, I don't want to tell anyone anything incorrect in a class discussion.

Anonymous said...

If I were to lead a class discussion it would have to be a critique on the movie the Princess Diaries.