Friday, August 24, 2007

A doughnutty day


How many doughnuts does it take to fill a coupla Calc I classes?

Evidently not as many as I'd expected. I got six dozen tummy-busters this morning (yep, that's 72 doughnuts) at Krispy Kreme on my way into campus; I thought it might make a nice end-of-the-first-week-of-class gift for my calculus compadres. With 63 students, I thought maybe I'd have a few doughnuts left over after the carnage had ended. I finished up with something closer than two full dozen to spare, and that's after I'd had my own unhealthily large share.

Mathwise, in Calc I today we rummaged about in a pile of various useful models: polynomials, root functions, rational functions, transcendental functions of various sorts. On Monday we'll work at building new functions from old ones. I was a bit bored in today's class (although it was likely difficult for the students to tell; as usual, I got a number of comments regarding my characteristically high energy level), I don't feel I got the students to do enough today. Geez Louise, I've finally gotten to the point in my career where I feel out-of-sorts if I talk for more than 10 minutes in a row in class.

Meanwhile, today marked the first entirely-math-related day for my 280 folks. We started our discussion of mathematical statements, comparing the notions of validity and truth, introducing the notion of a "grammatically correct" ("well-formed") mathematical statement, universal quantifiers, existential quantifiers, and order of quantification. I handed out the first homework assignment and exhorted folks to get a jump on Exercise #2, solutions to which are due to the first HW Committee on Monday. (This exercise asks them to come up with their own mathematical statement involving a universal quantifier and an existential one such that when the order of the quantifiers is reversed, the truth value of the statement is negated.)

In between classes, I was as busy as a caffeine-addled (or doughnut-sugar-soaked) bumblebee. Though I did have an hour or two in which to start re-reading a paper I'm hoping to work on with one of my colleagues here, and to chase down another dead end in the random tree project, meet 'n' greet sessions with students filled much of my time. I've now met with about half of my new students, and as usual have been awed by the diversity of people who come into my classroom. Some are confident mathematics practitioners who come equipped with eagerness and excitement, others are trepidatious, to put it mildly. Some are fully aware of their own particular study habits and learning styles, others haven't a clue what I'm talking about when I ask after the techniques that help them learn best. ("I dunno, I just do the problems, maybe look at some examples," is a common response. I'm always heartened when a student quickly tells me, "oh yeah, it really helps me to draw a picture to help understand," or "when I explain it to my friend, I really catch on.") Variety, variety: one 280 student I met with today credited his math classes with giving him the ability think more clearly and to improve his memory, while one of my calc students unhesitatingly mentioned her math anxiety and indicated that she merely hopes to finish out the class with a better grade than she earned the last time around.

They're a good lot.

Well, off to bed. Tomorrow brings my first grading session of the new semester, I've got a thick stack of calculus homework to peruse. We'll see how the new grading system works out.

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