Tuesday, April 29, 2008

End of the line

Today was the last day of class. As I said to my second section, such endings are bittersweet: I'm happy to see them succeed, go forth, move on...but I'll miss them. They're smart, fun, for the most part hardworking. I'll miss them, every one of them special to me in some way.

This week's been a surreal one: I've been riding a roller coaster of research ups and downs over the past 48 hours, and that's eaten up most of my time.

For what it's worth, the end of this semester couldn't have come too soon, I'm going to enjoy the few months of busy but unstructured time I've now got coming to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Run down

As I was rounding the south-bending curve of I-240 West on the way home this evening I caught a quick glimpse of a dead possum. He wasn't the first of his kind I've seen dead at the side of the road, and surely not the most brutally beaten. I sped by at fifty miles an hour and never came closer than fifteen feet from where he lay, so my view was only brief. Somehow, though, the sight of his body keenly and clearly connoted death: final, absolute, without ambiguity.

This past Monday I laughingly offered to shoot myself after bowling a disappointing 113 in league play. "Just shoot me," I said to one of my teammates, making a gun of my hand and aiming it at my right temple. A split-second later I thought of Elmer, and I felt like an ass.

Elmer was a student in my 365 course, the one for which I began writing this blog nearly two years ago. He was a fantastic student in all three classes I shared with him (Calc II, Calc III, and Linear Algebra), and I'd grant that he had stronger mathematical aptitude than any other non-math major I've yet taught at UNCA. He had a promising career as a research chemist, and was a favorite with all of his faculty here. He was on his way towards stardom at UC Berkeley.

This Monday afternoon I found out that Elmer had hung himself last week.

Death stalks, watching from the wings. It's never far away.

Reminders of mortality have been thick of late. Two of my best students have lost loved ones in the past two weeks: one a brother's father; the other a childhood friend. One to sickness, death coming unsurprisingly on steady-stepping feet; to the other death came with blinding rapidity, swift and startling.

We do what we can to cope, to go on living, to make do, and each of us makes do in our own way.

I realize after re-reading the last few (scattered and infrequent) posts I've made to this blog that I've said little lately that's purely pedagogical. All semester I've been preoccupied with matters one could only describe as "personal," even as they effect my teaching: "I feel" this, "I sense" that...

A funny thought occurs to me: yesterday I was charged with writing up an evaluation form to be used in our capstone course (MATH 480), which I'm coordinating this semester. (Context: we currently don't solicit from the students course evaluations for this class, though I've often wondered why this is. We're hoping to offer the students a chance to give us more feedback on the course, thus the eval form I wrote.) I resisted a colleague's suggestion to do away with the Likert-scaled items "How confident would you now feel in preparing a presentation on a mathematical topic?" and "How confident would you now feel in researching an unfamiliar mathematical topic?", indicating the need to assess not only cognitive learning goals, but also affective ones. In the items stayed.

Exercise #1: Complete the sentence: "I feel..."

...as though this semester is best characterized by improved awareness of one's self in one's teaching. Last semester the lesson I best learned was one dealing with intentionality: if one hopes to improve students' ability to write mathematically, one must intentionally design one's course to address students' writing abilities. If one hopes to encourage students to work well as members of an academic team, one must intentionally design activities that bring students together as a team.

This semester I've learned (as a reading of my recent posts should suggest) that the "me" that I am outside the classroom is never very far from the "me" that I am in it.

My frustrations follow me when I walk through the classroom door. So do my annoyances, my pet peeves, my likes and dislikes, my (sometimes overly) generous and giving nature, my distractibility that leads to entertaining tangents. What you see is what you get: I prefer harmony to conflict, and the carrot to the stick. I'm bad at playing The Heavy, and when I play that part I do it clumsily, erringly.

Exercise #2: Complete the sentence: "I am confident that..."

...I've learned a lot from my students this semester, perhaps more than they've learned from me.

More than anything else, I've learned about perspective.

A Brief History of Perspective

Once the world was flat,
and folks were formless blobs.
Life was dull, to say the least.
We knew little of each other,
and cared even less.
We wandered around clumsily back then,
always bumping into one another.
"Excuse me," you might say.
"Harumph," I might reply: "Watch your step! I was here first."
"I didn't know..."
We'd argue, but it wouldn't matter anyway, for
there was no telling who stood where in relation to
or that
or another.
Then angles rose up, ministers of space,
connoting volume,
All at once I could be
behind you, or in front of you, or at your side,
and in any case it would be clear where I meant myself to be.
"She was barely seventeen," you tell me.
"Fresh as a lavender bud,
clean as April air."
Who was she?
She wasn't numbers derivatives integrals sequences series...
...She was, however, day lilies dalliances mischievous winks curfew-breaking cruises down
the highway at unimaginable speeds.
Angles did her in.
They gave her room to move about, they let her up from the page...

What do we mean to each other, in the end?

"Let's do it," I told Cassio at the end of this semester's Parson's lecture. Prof. Mary Lou Zeeman had just finished her talk on mathematical modeling in biology, and Cassio had asked her afterward about how modifications of her models might look in the context of global economics and politics.

"Let's look into it." He was excited.

Exercise #3: Complete the sentence: "I feel that..."

...I've done my best work this semester when the lines that mark the borders between my teaching self, my research self, and my self self have been most indistinct.

I feel good about the undergraduate research projects I've helped to get underway this semester. Several students have begun meaningful, original, authentic research projects as a consequence of being in the right place at the right time. They've been excited by the potential of mathematics to answer questions they themselves have asked, and I've been lucky enough to be there, in the right place at the right time, to steer them on a course towards their respective goals.

I feel good about the work I've done this semester with the Super Saturday program, particularly that done with the help of my student assistants. I'm proud of them, I'm proud of their dedication, their sense of purpose.

I feel good about the work I've done with the Writing Intensive Subcommittee, and with my colleagues on the Writing Assessment Pilot Project. I'm proud about our findings, and I enjoy our meetings immensely. (Am I sick for looking forward to them?)

I feel good knowing that more than once this semester I've touched students' lives in a positive way. I've excited them about mathematics, I've helped them to access hidden talents, and just by being myself I've managed to make a difference.

Is it ever enough?

Exercise #4: Complete the sentence: "I want..."

...to work with my students and colleagues to create the perfect learning environment, an edenic haven in which the woes of the outside world can be forgotten long enough for us all to come together and put together some beautiful math.

Towards this end, I want to be a hero: I want to be able, singlehandedly, to fend off stalkers and suicides and seasonal affective disorder. I want to be a human restraining order. I want to walk tall and stand firm.

I want to be strong.

Exercise #5: Find meaning in your teaching.

How did I come to teach at a liberal arts college?

I'm not sure my decision to come here was a fully conscious one.

From my adviser, six years ago, after I'd just accepted my postdoc at Illinois: "it's not hard to get your first postdoc. Getting the second one is the trick."

From my wife: "I'm just not convinced you wouldn't be happier somewhere where you had graduate students!"

From my mother-in-law: "I think you should get a job at Princeton. Their campus is beautiful."

Why me, why here?

The past three years have taught me a boatload about who I am and what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

I'm here because I'm a people person. It's here only that I have a chance to know the students as well as I do, and to work with them so closely. I do what I do here because...

...well, because there's nothing in the world I'd rather do.

I. Fucking. Love. My. Job.

I am still amazed that I get to do what I do well and willingly, and that I get paid to do it.

I am still amazed at the satisfaction I get out of my work: the thrill of a new theorem, the wondrousness of a student's sudden epiphany, the warm fuzzies that come from a productive committee meeting.

I'm sick, I'm telling you.

I'm also making less and less sense as I near the end of this post.

And I am nearing the end.


And I've as yet said nothing about the talk I'm giving at Wake Forest tomorrow (on research of which I'm very proud) or the conference I'll be attending in West Virginia this weekend.

There. I said it.

Oh well.

Like other recent posts, this post has been not so much about my teaching as it has been about me. I hope you've made it this far without gouging out your eyes with a butter knife.

I'd like to end with a brief (assuredly incomplete and mostly anonymous) list of my heroes this semester. Maybe you'll recognize yourself.

Before I go, let me make an intensely personal exhortation: if you're reading this, please write to me. Write anonymously, write with your name in big, bold letters. Write comments, dialogues, diatribes. Write poems, stories, confessions. Write apologia, hagiographia. Write pompously, funnily, sarcastically, banally. Write in streams of consciousness, write in haiku. Write however you'd like to, just write. Write, write, write. Tell me I'm right on, tell me I'm full of crap. I'd like to know that you're out there, I'd like to know what you think. It's comforting, it gives me perspective: if I know where you are, I can better know where I am, and I hope that once we all know where we stand in relation to one another we can work together to make our ways meet up in the middle.

Heroes, Spring 2008 Edition
  • The Calc II student who, since he cleaned up his act about a third of the way through the semester, has fought his way from an almost certain failing grade to within striking distance of a B. His homework's often messy, but his exam grades have skyrocketed. I'm immensely proud of him.
  • The several first-year students who make up my Unofficial Freshman Graph Theory Research Group. Their passion for mathematics is evident and unassailable. They've already made several new discoveries, and I have no doubt that before they leave this school they'll make many more.
  • My wife, for putting up with my workaholism, for often being satisfied with seeing me only one hour here, another hour there. Without her help and support I would have gone insane years ago. Without her love I wouldn't be able to make it through the day.
  • My Super Saturday assistants, who labored week after week at the thankless task of corralling hyperactive ten-year-olds, convincing those kids that math is a worthwhile endeavor.
  • The student who was brave enough to acknowledge that this semester she's been a sub-par scholar, that she's had neither the time nor energy she'd like to devote to our class. I respect her and admire her perseverance, and I hope I'll get a chance to work with her in a future class, when she'll have more time to commit our common cause of learning.
  • My best friend, for inspiring me with new teaching ideas, entertaining me with stories of her own classroom, and letting me kvetch to her about whatever it is that's bugging me. Sometimes I think I work as hard as I do just to keep up with her.
  • My Graph Theory class, for standing by me through my first fully Moore-method course. My thanks go to them for all of their hard work, and for sticking with it and trusting me enough to put together a halfway decent discovery-centered course.
  • The dead possum I saw on the roadside on the way home this evening. He was more than a dozen pounds of bruised flesh and broken bones: he was fragility, humility, mortality. He was, in a sense, me. He brought me here, and here I am. I am now who I'll be tomorrow when I'm talking about my research in Winston-Salem, when I'm working with my students on Friday morning.
I'll be there. Will you be with me?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Pile-up on page 565

It rained all day in Asheville today, and I spent most of the afternoon lying on the couch reading Meyer Levin's The old bunch, a novel that started slow but has definitely grown on me now that I'm about 60% of the way through it. Levin's sense of character is rich and deep, and by the time I reached page 565 I realized just how well-developed the characters have become, how well I feel I know each one, how well I know their motivations, how I understand what makes them do what they do.

At the top of that page my mind drifted for a bit, back to the presentation on my REU that I gave yesterday afternoon to an odd assortment of colleagues, administrators, and community hangers-on. On one slide I summarized my colleague Ocarina's analysis of the REU students' survey data, an analysis she based upon William Glasser's choice theory. Once the students' comments had been coded as corresponding to various topics ("having fun," "faculty support," "making progress," and so forth), Ocarina was able to trace the students' development through the milestones of Glasser's social trajectory: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.

For a few minutes I thought about the stages through which the various characters in Levin's novel were going, according to my naive (and likely highly inapt) analysis: though Sam's storm was over and he'd reached a period of normalcy, Joe was yet storming, trying to find a place in his world. Harry, meanwhile, was performing, as Sol had been since the end of the novel's first book. Mitch? Norming? Performing? Straddling a gap between the two?

"Back then, where was I?" I thought, thinking back to when I was as old as the kids in the book on page 565. Was I norming? Performing, yet? I was through storming, I think: by the time I was twenty-five, I think I'd nearly sorted myself out. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, at least, and that's more than many could say at that age. I had a pretty good idea about what it is I believe, about many things, though it would be inaccurate and presumptuous of me to say that my life was static, resolved, and fully meaningful. Nevertheless, the tempestuous growth spurts that made my twenty-year-old self alien to my eighteen-year-old self, and my twenty-two-year-old self as alien to me at twenty, had subsided, and one would have to thumb through the first 565 pages of my history in order to learn of them at all.

565 pages.

Who could say what makes me do what I do, without at least leafing through those pages?

This evening at a friend's potluck I met several people I'd never met before, and spent a dizzying two and a half hours trying to keep up with their newness, trying to take it in and learn about who these people were. Musicians, mostly, most of whom knew each other already, had written several chapters together. Between them all, they'd spent a century or two on Earth, learning this, doing that, dabbling, babbling, building friendships, making noise...We're all of us walking around with hundreds of pages of history, most of them forgotten, unreadable, unknowable.

It's amazing that people get along as well as they do, given that we're all walking about with unindexable, unabstractable users' manuals buried in our brains.

My students are still forming, still storming. Some (I have one particular student, from last semester, in mind as I write this) are so storm-tossed they can't make it to the classroom more than once in a while. Some are quick at finding their places and soon settle in for an expert performance. (Blackwell claims to have completed formulas for the remaining two cases of his graceful labeling I'd asked him to describe technically.)

These kids are at an awkward age: they're about half as old as they think they are, twice as old as they act. Yet they're often wiser than we give them credit, and though they often find critical thought difficult, their minds are quick to absorb new ideas and new information. They're malleable and manipulable, but can be taught skepticism. They are arch, and smartly shrewd. They're clever and conniving, and are capable of utterly unfair and solipsistic acts, yet among them are some of the most selfless people I know.

I love these people, I love my students. I feel honored to do what I do. Halfway through my second section of Calc II the other day I turned from the board and said, "if I won the lottery tonight, I'd still be back here tomorrow."

This morning's Super Saturday class was the last of the semester, and we finished up with "Bending Space and Time," the activity for which I always get my Calc students making poster board polygons. It went over as well as it typically does, and the kids were actually more or less on-task (thanks in a large part to Sieglinde's and Tallulah's ability to rein them in with stentorian teacherly commands). All but a couple of them dutifully pieced together the polyhedra they were asked to build: cubes, dodecahedra, tetrahedra, octahedra, and finally a bit of free-form spherical building before we finished with a small chunk of the hyperbolic plane.

This particular activity is one of four "solid" Super Saturday classes I've got now. Having run this thing for four semesters, I've finally found four activities (the others: "Games on Graphs," "Build Your Own Fractal," and "Math Treasure Hunt") that go over consistently well, leaving me with two slots yet to fill with dependably interesting and educative classes. "Codebreaking and Codemaking" is an exciting activity, but needs some tweaking: the current incarnation, involving binary arithmetic, is often above the heads of all but the brightest students in the class.

I'll do some brainstorming over the summer to think of a couple new activities to try. (Ideas? Send 'em in, I'd be delighted to know if you have thoughts on the matter.)

I don't know if I've mentioned yet that we've finalized our list for the coming summer's REU: it took about a week to fill the first seven of our eight slots (with only three or four "noes"), and another week past that to fill the eighth position (with another four or five "noes"). Now, we're set: four are men, four are women (the same as last year) seven students will come from liberal arts institutions, and one from a Ph.D.-granting school (again, the same); and three come from schools in the Southeast, as opposed to last year's four. (The Midwest gained one slot this year, three instead of two, while the Northeast remained stable with two students.)

I'm looking forward to this year's program, to be conducted more "intentionally" in many ways, and more freely in others. While I already have a topic or two in mind for specific students, we'll be letting them loose to find their own ways once we've given them a week or so of a head start.

Ah, for now bed beckons. I hope to return soon, when events warrant further commentary. Feel free to chime in if you've got something to say.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Prejudice and Pride

A classic 1968 study by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen (summarized in Pygmalion in the classroom) posited the theory that students' intellectual development is a function of the expectations placed upon them by their instructors. According to Rosenthal and Jacobsen, if teachers expect a lot from their students, and if they make these expectations clear, students will tend to rise to the occasion; if teachers' expectations are low, students will work only to leap over the low-placed bar.

Since that time various studies have called these results into question, but the power of the study still pervades a good deal of thought on pedagogy at all levels.

I must admit I've had it in mind as I compare the achievements of my two Calc II sections this semester.

Last week saw their second exam, on which the results of the first were more or less replicated: of the 19 students who received As and Bs before revisions were allowed, 10 of them were in the second section, which has only 16 students; the 29-person first section was home to under half of the overachievers. There were 10 Fs in the first section (several of them very low Fs), a section whose average score was about 68% (contrasted with the second section's 82%).

The in-class attitudes of the two sections are dramatically different: the first is torpid, laconic, nearly silent. They respond only when it's practically demanded of them, they work together in groups only reluctantly, they mutter answers almost incomprehensibly when an answer is called for. If they don't understand something, they let it slide by without question. The second section is vibrant, lively, jocose, responsive. They offer answers willingly, they ask questions unashamedly. They have fun, that much is clear.

The out-of-class attitudes are similar. The first class is lax, the second thoroughgoingly diligent. While the second section takes pride in its work, the first seems to do its work grudgingly. The second section's denizens log more hours in the Math Lab and coat their work with elbow grease; many in the first section are content to transcribe the solutions manual and call it good, assuming they bother with the homework at all. For example, with 10 weeks of homework behind us, the second section has submitted 156 out of a potential maximum of 16 x 10 = 160 assignments, a 97.5% submission rate, a mark simply unmatched by any non-upper-division course I've ever taught. I've not counted the submission rate for the first section, though I would guess that it's around 75%.

Please keep in mind that here I'm making generalizations: there are wonderful students in both classes, students who are active, proactive, interactive, attentive, and as dedicated to their studies as the finest of scholars. Keep in mind too that I have nothing personal against anyone in either section. To a one I like my students, I respect them, cheer for them, I want the best for them.

Which is why it's so damned difficult, puzzling over what it is that makes the one section so different from the other.

This brings us back to Pygmalion.

Is it something I do, or something I don't do? Is it something I can control, something I can adjust, tweak, in some way modify, so as to help the class run more smoothly, more effectively? Is it that my first section's students' development is being hampered by some set of expectations on my part? Am I, in the very act of writing this, undermining a search for a solution? By wondering aloud about the differences between my classes, am I admitting that I hold them to different standards, that I place one above the other, that I am prejudiced before I even set foot in Rhoades 105, and that that prejudice is somehow affecting, for good or for ill, the achievements of the students I meet with for an hour a day, four days each week?

It's absolutely incredible how much more tiring it is to work with a sluggish class than it is an active one. My energy is not limitless (much as I try to pretend otherwise), and more than once this calendar year I fear I've shown hints of exhaustion as my efforts to lead that first class onward peter out. Tuesday's class was a particularly rough one. "We can stop here, if y'all want," I said peevishly at one point ten minutes from the period's end, having waited for nearly half a minute for some kind of response, any kind of response, to my request for a pretty straightforward sum. "1+1/4" was all I needed to hear, yet silence was all I got. I felt like a schlemiel.

I was pissed as hell after that, not at my students, but at myself, for letting their unresponsiveness get to me as it had.

You see, I feel helpless when all that I do or try to do fails to excite, fails to entice, to allure, even to amuse (there are days when I'd be satisfied with that). I hint, I prod, I show, I cajole, I even bribe...I sit back and look on, I wheedle, needle, hint, and direct. I nudge, nurture, insinuate, and elaborate. I illustrate and animate, I offer up worlds of wonder full of mathematical mystery...what more can I do?

Or am I doing enough? Is it working? Am I getting through? Are they learning?

They must be learning, at some level. I must be getting through. There are signs, after all.

After all, as I said above, there are beautiful minds in both classes, and those minds are making progress: Section 001 is home to the author of all of my courses' most beautiful homework, a weekly technicolor fantasie of positively gorgeous (and nearly flawless) solutions. It's home to two freshmen (freshmen!) who are eagerly undertaking graph theory research under (and beyond) my direction. It's home to a quiet and unassuming young woman who made away with a perfect score on this last exam. It's home to one of my most regular Super Saturday volunteers, a brilliant young woman whose talents are remarkable, and whose career I'm sure will take her far. It's home to a couple of my brightest engineering students, one of whom willed himself most of the way from a C to an A last semester, borne on the back of his tireless efforts.

These are smart, smart people, and I'm annoyed with myself for being annoyed with their unresponsiveness.

I'm going to ask more of them in the semester's closing weeks: I'm going to crank out more worksheets, more Mathematica exercises, more interactive games. I'm going to get them up and bouncing about. I'm going to challenge their inertia and pry them from their seats. By gum, I'm going to get them moving.

Then there's Graph Theory.

Over dinner on the first night in Charleston (about which, more later) I had a delightful conversation with Sylvester and Nadia regarding the way our class has shaped up. These two, strong students both, had been too busy to submit their homework from the previous week: a paragraph or two describing their experience in our class, indicating both effective and helpful aspects of the class and what might be modified to make for a better learning environment during the waning weeks. "So, what do you two think?" I asked at the Starfish Grille. (Note to self: avoid this establishment in the future. The food is bland, the service dour, and the prices, though "Charleston cheap," still ain't "student cheap.") Egbert (auditing the class) and Trixie (nowhere near it) looked on.

Always outspoken, Nadia was happy to lend her opinion: it's all right, but she feels that fifty percent (her estimate) of the folks in the class aren't working as hard as they should be, aren't taking it seriously enough. Although she recognized that she's gotten better at presenting and communicating mathematics as the semester's gone by, I get the feeling that she felt certain people were holding the class back, and that I'd do more of the teaching. Sylvester seemed to concur.

I reminded these two that though by now they're old hands at advanced mathematics (having worked their ways through nearly two semesters of real analysis and other assorted beastliness), about a third of the class is fresh out of 280, and another third are one semester removed from 280 but have taken very little beyond that course. This course, for some, is the first course in which one encounters proofs for more than simply the sake of proofs. Thus there's a bit of trepidation on these peoples' parts: it's harder for them to take a stand on a nontrivial proof, it's harder for them to make themselves clear. Though the intuition may be there, the explanation is harder to come by.

The feedback from the rest of the class? Most of the others had primarily positive things to say. A couple regretted that the class seemed to move a bit more slowly than they'd like it to, and this comment was understandable, coming from the people who made it. Most have thoroughly enjoyed the structure of the class and have gotten a lot out of it. It seems we've come a long way from the awkward first weeks (including the awful soccer ball affair). The most concrete request was for a more real-time, group-oriented approach to the "review problems" at the end of each problem sheet. On Monday we'll try this out, picking apart the definitions, theorems, and problems in small groups and discussing the results as a class.

I'll let you know how it goes.

So, yeah, how was that MAA meeting in Charleston? (This brings us to the "Pride" in "Prejudice and Pride"...)

Every educator worth her weight in textbooks knows the feeling of pride that comes from being on site to witness her students' successes. "Them're mine!" you feel like shouting. "They're goin' home with me!" You feel a spark inside when your student boldly asks a good question at the end of a talk, you feel a glow when she defends the results of her own research.

For Charleston, Sylvester, Nadia, and Trixie all put together posters showcasing the research they've done over the past few months. (Trixie felt underprepared, yet she was the only one to finish her poster before leaving town; the other two threw theirs together at the last minute, literally. Indeed, it was five minutes into the judging period when they picked up their posters and launched themselves into the display area. The hour and a half leading up to that moment was seen through a frenzied haze of spray adhesive and hastily-scissored poster board. Trixie had watched nonchalantly from the sidelines, alternating between watching the action and fiddling with her Gameboy.)

It wasn't all work, of course. After a pleasant drive down, we had a brief break before finding dinner and taking a twilit walk on the Folly Island beach. The next morning let the kids stroll around downtown while I took part in some faculty development whatnot, and then the conference came.

Conference highlights:

  • several hours' of research and relaxation with my good friend and colleague, Griselda
  • warm fuzzies on hearing Sylvester and Nadia ask fantastic questions at the end of one of the conference's talks
  • the elation of making a breakthrough in one's research (followed by the realization later that day, during the long and drizzly drive home, that the breakthrough was an erroneous one)
  • hearing Trixie tell of an exchange between her and one of the poster judges, who had been rather critical of her design: "So, are you a junior or a senior?" "Actually, I'm a freshman..."
  • the tired contentedness of driving a vanload of sleeping students back from their first academic conference, at which they'd made a hell of a splash
It was good.

I needn't have gone as far as the South Carolina beach to find students to be proud of this past week: Trixie's friend Blackwell has jumped on board the labeling lorry and has managed to find his own graceful labeling of a class of spiders similar to those Trixie claimed. We worked together for over an hour yesterday afternoon, hammering out a technical description of his labeling. (I even managed to sign him on as a math major! My hope is that peer pressure will finally cause Trixie to cave...) Throw his work in with Trixie's and Sieglinde's, and with the impromptu caterpillar labeling enumeration project begun the other night with Umberto and Nadia, and we've got a heckuva graph theory group coming together up here in the mountains.

And while we were away in Charleston, Tallulah led the Math Discoveries Super Saturday class. She and a few of her friends skilfully guided our troupe of elementary schoolers through the mathematical treasure hunt I'd planned for them. To hear it from Tallulah, though it poured a bit the night before and all was a bit rain-soaked, the kids had a blast. My warmest thanks go out to Belladonna, Tallulah, Sieglinde, and any others who helped them this past weekend; without wonderful students like you, these efforts wouldn't be nearly so meaningful for the kids. I really do think that we're in the business of changing lives for the better, and you're playing a big part in that venture.

I'm fixin' to wrap up this here post, but I'd like to end it on a note as high as my opening note was low. Let me be more frank than I've been since my cathartic post from December 8th, 2007.

I'm tired right now. Though overall this semester's not been as busy as last fall's, the past week or so has been a rough one on me, and I'm aware that I've not been as patient and peppy as usual. I've been short, curt, and I hope not quite rude. I've let my frustration show, and I'm frustrated by this fact.

Be patient. Remember that I'm human too, and can falter and fail as well as soar and sail, and that I need your help to make sure our classes succeed.

If you're reading this, please tell me what I can do to help you out. Let me know if you've got any hints, tips, clues, or suggestions. Post anonymously, if you'd like to, or send me an e-mail. One way or another, lemme have it. I'd love to end this semester on a high note, but I can't do that alone.