Monday, March 05, 2007

Spring Break!

Well. Yeah.

Here we are.

Here in the South (where they wouldn't know real winter weather if it smacked 'em upside the head with a two-foot blizzard and subzero wind chill) it snowed yesterday, and though there are two weeks left before spring actually begins, we're on Spring Break.

For me this means it's a good chance to get ahead in class prep, since March and April are going to be busy travel months for me (two conferences, two colloquia on the schedule so far), and I'm not going to want to fall behind while gallivanting about the eastern United States. It's also a good chance for me to post here for the first time in a looooooong time...

The funny thing is, I'm less busy this semester than I was last semester, despite the fact that I'm doing three preps this time around (and for the first time ever). Most of the slack is due to the fact that 365 is not one of the classes I'm teaching...I put so much of myself into that course, and I let so much of myself (including sense of self-worth, I fear I must say) get wrapped up in how well I pulled it off. Even when I was done getting ready for 365, I was never done worrying about it.

I have to say that I'm enjoying this semester a lot more than I did the last, perhaps to a large extent because I've managed to distance myself personally from my classes. That's not to say I'm not being myself in class, as I am, and it's not to say I don't care about the students, their learning, or their welfare. I mean only that I recognize that the success or failure of the class, however that might be measured from day to day and week to week, reflects in no way on me as a person.

And the funny thing is, I think I'm doing a much better job with both of my upper division classes this semester than I did with 365 in the fall. Things are running a bit more smoothly. I've found in both 280 and 368 a good balance between me standing at the front and yammering like a talking head and the students working the entirety of the class period with minimal direction from me.

368 is purring along particularly nicely. The text is fantastic, and eminently suitable for the manner in which I'm teaching the course. I've found that by distilling each chapter into a short worksheet I can ask the students to do most of the computations and the bulk of the simpler proofs, leaving me to stand off to the side to lend a hand on the trickier arguments as they arise. The presentations are rotating nicely in that class, and I've had no trouble convincing people to volunteer to present. Right now we're off-text, working our way through a couple of weeks of analytic number theory. We spent the last week on divisor sums and Dirichlet convolution, and the coming week brings an estimate of the average number of divisors for large numbers (a value that tends to ln(x) in the limit). After that we'll return to the text to do a little cryptography before heading off towards elliptic curves and more about Fermat's Last Theorem.

280's easin' on down the road, too. Freeing myself from a text was the right thing to do for this class, I believe. Though it's meant that I don't have a ready reference immediately at hand, it's also meant that I can run the course using the in-class worksheets without having to defer to a text that covers topics in just such an order, that provides at-best weak explanations or overly difficult exercises. I'm happy with the day-to-day goings-on, though people aren't nearly as eager to present HW solutions as the 368 students are. (I'm chalking that up to the relative mathematical inexperience of the 280 crowd; it's nothing unexpected, nor is it to be sorely lamented.) I'm very pleased with the improvement I'm seeing in a lot of the students' work. I'm thinking particularly of folks like Neville, Sylvester, and Una, a trio whose first homeworks were lackluster, but in whom there was definitely potential. In the past few assignments from them, I've seen much stronger structure, clearer arguments, cleaner logic, better use of notation. All three of them have put in long hours in the Math Lab, and it shows. Kudos! Of course, I'm getting stellar performance from people like Fiona and Elmer, folks I knew I could count on to do well. From everyone, there are struggles to be won, but I think overall we're at a good place to be by midsemester. Right now the order of business is combinatorics: combinations and permutation rule the day, and by the end of next week we should begin talking about functions and relations.

Oh, yeah, and the University's Writing Intensive Committee has ruled: 280 is now officially a WI course, from here on in!

Finally, I'd be remiss if I left unmentioned my Calc I class. They're a laid-back bunch, and after 280 and 368, which are often hectic and fast-paced, it's often nice to wind down the day with the 191 folks. We're moving a bit more slowly than I typically do, but I truly think it's the right thing to do. There are a number of people in this class who haven't had math for quite a while, who aren't so confident of their math skills as they might could be, and the slower pace is letting them absorb the material more meaningfully than if we were simply blazing through it. We're just now working our way through the Product and Quotient Rules, and by next week's end should be ready to consider some interesting applications.

So that's the score.

Big-picture-wise, I'm still waiting to find out whether or not I'll be getting this REU picked up for the coming summer...the fact that I've not yet heard could be a good thing. Ever the optimist am I. If we don't land that big fish, I'm going to try to rustle up a couple of research assistants for the summer so's I can have a crack at a couple of problems from geometric group theory I've had on the back burner for several months.

1 comment:

Breezy said...

yay for spring break! go you!