Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I'll be off to my second section of Calc I in a little while here, but I just wanted to check in and let y'all know that I wasn't eaten by grizzly bears in Montana. I've made it back home safe 'n' sound, and ready to tackle the last (less than a) week of classes.


What's up with teaching?

I spent a cumulative 20 hours or so over break in grading Calc I exams and 280 homeworks, and in reading my Calcsters' reflections on Newton v. Leibniz. I've extracted 19 excerpts, ranging in length from short sentences to entire paragraphs, from these papers, in order to quote them here. I'm in the process of gathering my students' permission to do so, but I hope to publish those excerpts soon, along with my own interpretation of the events that elicited the comments.

Many wrote on discovery versus invention: what does it mean to "discover" something? How can one claim credit, or is it even worthwhile asking who gets credit for what?

A number pointed out the humanizing effect that the project had on their understanding of mathematics, and of mathematicians: suddenly these titanic personages from history seem more lifelike, in all of their humility, failing, and pettiness. Through their faults are magnified their successes, and all of math becomes a more "human" enterprise.

Several reported periods of intense focus and excitement about the project. It came as no surprise to me that the most passionate reflections came from the second section, whose reenactment was decidedly more intense and authentic. Not a single person from the second section reported any disappointment in the trial, other than that it should have been allowed to take up two class periods instead of one. (I'll be sure to budget time accordingly next time around...several people explicitly said that this project should be retained in future incarnations of the course.)

In these reflections at least two of the Calc students expressed excitement about penning a math poem, and I've received a request to read over one students' rough draft.

Who knows what I'll learn from these poems?

What does math mean to them?

Is it wild, or warming, or simply terrifying?

And how can writing help them access their feelings about math, and then express them?

How is it that they make mathematical sense of the world, how do they fill the math-shaped holes that pop up around them?

This morning I picked up the post-surveys to be used in math 280 class to wrap up the writing assessment study we're currently working on. I can't tell you how eager I am to see what we can find out from the pre- and post-surveys and the differences between them. I typed up an additional question to which I'd like to know an answer: "Has this class affected your perceptions about writing in disciplines outside of mathematics? Please explain."

My hope is that my students, in reflecting consciously on writing in mathematics, will actually have learned something about writing in other disciplines.

The way I see it, it's kind of like how I had no earthly idea what in the hell the future indicative tense was in English until I learned what it meant in Spanish. Ditto the genitive case: German helped me out there. In such a way I hope that in asking students to focus on making their math writing correct, complete, clear, and well-composed, I've actually asked them to do the same with their writing in general.

Random observation for future elaboration: this semester, more than in all previous semesters of teaching combined, I've become more consciously aware of the appropriate pacing and spacing of assignments, from a developmental point of view.

Random note to self: I must write to Profesora Bornstein and let her know how the trial went..., off to class: avanti!

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