Saturday, February 02, 2008

Oh, hey!

Hey, sorry I've not checked in for a bit!

I think about writing, I really do.

And then something else gets my attention. Some small fire pops up and needs putting out, someone comes by with a ten-minute diversion, or I just say to myself, "gee, I'd like to finish reading that Singer story I started this morning before the sun came up."

Some of my favorite of his stories involve the framing device wherein a motley crew of wayfarers, scholars, beggars, etc., find themselves holed up in a snowbound Hasidic study house somewhere in semirural fin-de-si├Ęcle Poland. There's a coziness to those tales, an intimacy, that makes them more believable, more real than they already are. You get the sense from that device that Singer himself told that tale by the flickering light of tallow candles, or at least overheard the story as it fell from the mouth of some unnamed wanderer who spoke of the spirit who haunted his second wife and caused her to suffer horribly and cavort wildly and brought her (and him with her) to shame in the eyes of his town's most devout Jews.

But I digress.

I've meant to say that we've done away with the soccer ball (mercifully!), and the last few classes of 473 have recovered much more of that sense of excitement with which the semester began. People have been better in not speaking out of turn, though, and it's led to more polite exchanges with less cross-talk and more consideration for others' rights to have a say. All in all, it's been an improvement.

One our class's quietest students led us off with the very first presentation after the soccer ball's eternal banishment, and it made for fifteen minutes of silence as he very meticulously wrote most of his proof (of the fact that the subgraph relation is an order relation) on the board before explaining it. (I can't help but think that a week before, there would have been a half-dozen interruptions during this time, by onlookers eager to offer their 34.5 cents on the problem's solution, but all of us did a remarkable job of sitting on our hands and biting our tongues.) The explanation was solid, and though not quite complete it was almost entirely correct. One or two others interjected helpful suggestions to move the proof to the finish line. It took about half the class, and it made for some tense moments, but it was well executed.

On Wednesday Joachim "solved" the first of the "review and discussion" problems I've begun adding to the problem sheets, at the suggestion of one of the students. These problems ask the solver to recap the definitions, theorems, and examples considered in the given problem sheet, providing the class with a "where are we now?" moment. I think these'll be useful in focusing the class's attention on the highlights and reminding them of key definitions and results.

I'd like to see the students improve their ability to interpret definitions; there was a bit of confusion over the definition of "bounded degree" on Problem Sheet 4. Or has it been that I've not made the definitions as clear as I might have? It's likely a combination of the two, we could all stand to do a little better. I have to remind myself that (a) I'm not writing to my research peers when I write these definitions, and (b) I'm not going to take extraordinary pains to describe these definitions to the students in person; it's up to them to interpret, draw examples for themselves, understand. I'm happy to help them over the hump if they come to me with questions, but I expect them to make the effort alone to understand a definition and apply it properly. After all, one of the learning objectives of this course asks the students to develop an ability to read a mathematical article and interpret and understand it, alone. I'd like for them to be able to read a fairly low-level math paper unassisted by the end of the semester, and that'll more often than not entail wading through a few new definitions on their own.

Nevertheless, I've got to insist on absolute clarity on my own part. I'm going to pay special attention to my definitions from now on, to make sure they're clear as crystal. Students, if they're not, please call me on it!

Meanwhile, Calc II has been chooglin' along. My morning section is a soporific one, but the early afternoon section, a bit smaller, is more lively, more engaged. I've only lost one student from that second section from the start of the semester, and two from the morning section. We're in the middle of methods of integration right now, about two weeks away from the first exam of the semester. So far the students have been really good about getting homework in, with only a few stragglers. Aside from a couple of folks whom I've carried over from last semester who look like they're crusin' for a losin', most everyone's eager to do well, a phenomenon that's a welcome change from Calc I, in which there are always a handful of folks who don't really give a rat's ass and are just drifting along until the end of the semester.

News flash, by the way: I found out that I'll be teaching Precalc (!), of all things, this coming Fall, along with two sections of Abstract Algebra. Woo hoo! This'll be the first time I'll have taught Precalc ever, and the first time I'll have taught Algebra since coming here. I'm excited on both counts.

The time has come for me to say adieu, as I must away to dinner in Greenville with our grad school buddy who now teaches at Furman U.

Farewell, and have a wonderful weekend, what remains of it!

No comments: