Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Leaps and bounds

Two days in, and going strong.

We've now wrapped up two days of intensive seminar-style introductions to graph theory and group theory (to say nothing of mountains of paperwork, campus tours, and bureaucratic snafus of various orders of magnitude), and the students seem to be taking it just fine.

Example: after three and a half hours in which we plowed through four weeks' worth of graph theory (we worked off of modified versions of my Moore-method notes for last semester's 473 course...the out-of-class homework problems adapted well to their new niche of in-class exercises), their "homework" was to strike out on their own and track down definitions, examples, and applications pertaining to 30 different graph theoretical concepts. The kids came through in spades, spending the first four and a half hours of our working time together in taking turns presenting the material they'd come up with. Although I suspect there was a good deal of division of labor (certain students "claimed" certain problems and broke up the workload along clearly demarcated lines) it was just as clear that many of the topics had been multiply-researched, and thoroughly, at that.

They kept each other honest, too: they weren't shy about comparing divergent definitions, asking questions to reconcile apparent contradictions, demanding clarification on points that weren't so obvious at first. One of the students is particularly bold about asking for elaboration, it's marvelous to have her there since her boldness and the elaboration it requires are no doubt leading to greater understanding on everyone's part, including my own. My thanks to you, I hope you know who you are!

Indeed, few of the students are shy about taking part. Two or three are ever eager to strut their stuff on the board, and a few more are just as comfortable in directing the action from the cozy quarters of their desks. A couple are quieter than the others and are therefore harder to read, but I have a hunch they're all following along pretty well. (Two of the students have yet to take an abstract algebra course and today's dessert course included and introduction to geometric group theory, so those two folks might have felt a bit pinched at the end. I hope they roll with the punches and persevere, I know they're both highly intelligent and will weather this first week's storm if they stay the course.)

I've got very high hopes for this group of young mathematicians. They're already top-notch scholars, and I hope we can effectively take them to the next level.

In other news, I've just received the copy of Oulipo: a primer of potential literature (Warren Motte, trans. and ed., Dalkey Archive Press: Champaign, IL & London, 2007) I ordered. Oulipo is a French acronym, standing for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, a consortium of artists (most French) who in 1960 began a movement dedicated to the production of rule-based works of literature. The generative rules that govern the poems they create are highly mathematical in nature, and any serious study of math and poetry demands that Oulipo's work be considered.

Meanwhile I just this morning sent "interview" questions to seven of my students from last Fall's Calc I classes, asking them to reflect not only on the poems they created for that course, but also on the process that led to the poems, and on the thoughts and feelings that governed that process.

I have to admit I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with the data I glean from these interviews. I think I'll only be able to find that out once I've got the student responses in front of me.

For now, I'll put down my pen and away myself to bed. It's late, and I've got another long day that begins early tomorrow (at 8:45 in the OneCard office, where I must meet with our Excellent Eight to sort out a minor matter involving their inability to check out library materials on their cards).

Feel free to let me know if you're out there!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there!
Betsy's mom here. Just thought I'd say "hey" and fess up to reading your blog. It's fun and highly entertaining! Might I happen to know that rather bold person pretty well??
Y'all take care!
Mindy Katz