Friday, December 14, 2007

Round two

I've got one more meeting in an hour and a half, and commencement tomorrow...but then everything...classes, projects, meetings, over for the semester.

Give me a week, and I'll be bored out of my ever-loving skull, itchin' to get back into the classroom.

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of excitement (grant-related activity, proposal-writing, this meeting and that, toying with various research ideas), and I'm looking forward to starting a few weeks of mercifully highly unstructured busyness.

For the moment I've got nothing to say, really, but I thought I'd post the second of what will be three rounds of student-authored math-themed poetry.

I should say up front that I've received permission from all of the students from whom permission was sought to post their writings; the only two poems I'm not including in this post are rich concrete constructions in which the pagination plays a very meaningful role. I'll have to see if I can render the effect in Blogger, I might have to settle for obtaining the original MS Word files from the students themselves and posting links to those.

For now, I give you

Mathematical Poetry, volume 2

Let's begin with a simple haiku, courtesy of Mark. Mark indicates that he felt justified in forgoing the tradition in American haiku of making mention of a season, since his poem deals intimately with the theme of Nature:

Nature is Chaos, by Mark

Nature is Chaos,
Math brings order to Chaos,
Math Quantifies life


Cory's poem deals with the sweet taste of victory, written after Leibniz had been exculpated in his section's reenactment of Newton v. Leibniz; Cory was one of several of his classmates who described the experience as an immensely positive one:

Newton v. Leibniz, by Cory

It started with a proposition
Which led my team to the path less traveled
Whitney, Cory, Ben, and Justin...Leibniz and his colleagues
We were doomed from the start
Newton this, Newton that, all in favor say Newton
With the invention of calculus at hand
We had to bring it home for the one and only Leibniz
As we ravaged the library and surfed the web
Little by little it pieced together
Closer and closer victory was ours
As underdogs we had no choice but to be prepared like no other has ever prepared
Days grew long
Nights became dawn
And before we knew it the hourglass was empty
The epic trial of Newton v. Leibniz was here
In only minutes we could see that we were better prepared
Minutes passed and minutes left before the deciding factors
As the trial came to an end Leibniz and his colleagues left the room with their heads held high
And a sense of pride lingered in their step
It was here
The verdict
Dead quiet
Leibniz found not guilty
Therefore he published first
And was crowned the king of calculus
It came with no surprise to Leibniz and his colleagues


The following is the only e-based poem I received, strangely enough. I love the way the author has made use of the fact that e's first several digits alternate between 1s/2s and 8s/9s: this alternation leads to a series of quick exclamations followed by more prolix elaboration.

e, by Anonymous

Great Calculus.
Can put to use in everyday situations.
Challenging yet the only subject that is constant.
Mind boggling.
Sometimes you want to pull your hair out.
Confusing/makes perfect sense at the same time.
Intricate simplicity.
If used can solve many problems we face.


Ben's work, below, paints an idealized picture of the way the world might look through a mathematician's eyes. I'm not sure exactly what's meant by the cryptic closing lines.

mathematician, by Ben

late nights and classroom lights
chalk board dust and old book must
soda redbull coffee and tea
oh! the world the mathematician sees

to take heed - a desire planted so deep

to justly discover and describe
the fine natural truths held inside
deep blue seas, big old trees. its
size, shape, speed, that he sees

joy and fulfillment abound
beautiful! the answer is found
and my dear! the truth will set you free
oh! i long to see the world that he sees

but as his time ends, there is one regret -

his curiosity reigns supreme
and learning all is but a dream

some regret a dollar lost
or an unforeseen cost

but as it comes fro'
his time to go

things unknown
leave him

the world the mathematician sees
is the world the mathematician must leave

this is the pain the mathematician knows


I felt the next poem was one of the strongest submitted, I've mentioned it in a previous post as its author was working it out in its preliminary form. Its theme is one of the most personal I encountered as well. Stylistically, the author expresses an affinity for the chiastic form the lines took on the page, and, not surprisingly, professes to be a fan of alliteration!

Frustrated, by Anonymous

It used to come so easy.
Never being challenged or troubled
Always loving the beauty and complexity of it,
Now getting bogged down in the cumbersome intricacies,
Confused not knowing how to help myself,
Frustrated with the fucking functions,
Wanting to get back to the beauty,
Seeking guidance.


Elise's piece was a particular clever one. Wanting to work with the Fibonacci sequence, she soon came up with the idea of laying out a flower garden, in which the nth flower named not only occurs Fn times, but also possesses Fn petals in its floral structure!

I think this poem would make a lovely children's book, if we could find the right illustrator.

My Fibonacci Flower Garden, by Elise

In my garden I have many flowers
The bloom elegantly after May day showers.

Here, I must bring you on a tour
Unless you've seen it all before.

It first starts off with a single white calla lily
That a friend gave me named Billy

Then next is a single pitcher plant
This is home to some ants.

After that is two euphorbia flowers
Couldn't you just look at them for hours?

Then there are three trilliums
Don't tell, I picked them from a mausoleum!

Then come five columbines
I swear, they bloom all the time.

And eight bloodroots
Aren't they just so cute?

Next to those are thirteen black-eyed Susan
Susan shouldn't have been cruisin' for a bruisin'.

And twenty-one asters
They seem to grow faster.

Then last but not least, thirty-four field daisies
I hope I don't seem crazy.

Now that you have seen my garden
Please beg your pardon.

It is now time for you to go
It looks like I have to put on another show.


Nathan's pi-based poem used the number's decimal places to count off the syllables occurring in each line, rather than the words. The effect is to render each line tighter, more succinct. What results is a geometric tour involving everyone's favorite constant:

Wonderful Pi, by Nathan

Vast bottomless
Without existence
Not a Circle would ever compute.
True value never known
Yet still you exist.
Impossible, no
Inside an orbicular world
Your escort, radius, assists
finding area and volume
Infinite. Great. Infinitely great.
You, my friend,
Are pi.


I love this next poem, an ode on an abbreviation I use frequently when grading: "w.b.c" stands for "wrong, but consistent," and arises whenever a student makes use of an incorrect calculation but does so in the correct manner, resulting in a solution which is wrong, but consistent with an incorrect intermediate value. "W.b.c" is good, because generally it means the student's got the right idea, but just made a minor boo-boo in her computations. Partial credit-wise, "w.b.c." might mean only a point or two off.

Clearly our anonymous author has been haunted by this abbreviation:

Untitled #1, by Anonymous

I stare and stare at the door
Feeling the approach of a familiar stranger
(Like pointless anticipation
Of an unnamed and unknown event)

On the very brink of my thoughts
The solution totters
Awaiting enlightenment (as a form of escape)
From the chamber of my mind

Wrong but consistent.
Partial credit.


Sarah's poem, much like Sam's (see the previous post!), poses a mathematical puzzle embedded in its lines. In addition to performing this feat of numerical legerdemain, she based the structure of her poem on the sequence of prime numbers, the only student to do so.

Magical number, by Sarah

Magical number
Add twenty-four
Then multiply me by two
Half of my last digit is one
Eventually there will be a number that is right for me
Multiply my very first digit by six then subtract it all from me
Average my two digits and you will find a golf term
Triple me to see consecutive numbers
I am only one digit
Count backward to
See me!


In unpoetical news, I've just come back from the final faculty meeting of the calendar year, at which our fearless Learning Circle leader delivered directly into my hands the text for the LC in which I will be participating: Learning partnerships: theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship, by Marcia Baxter Magolda and Patricia M. King. It should prove an interesting follow-up to Meszaros's book from this past semester.

This is the book we should have read first, perhaps?

Allow me now to end this post and set to work reading the paper I've been asked to referee for the Journal of Combinatorial Mathematics and Combinatorial Computing. (Say that one three times really quickly...)

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