Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow!

19 hours until my first class of the Spring 2009 semester begins.

At 9:00 it's 75 minutes of Calc I.

At 12:45 MATH 280 takes over.

At 2:45, Abstract Algebra II.

And at 4:10 we'll convene the semester's first meeting of MATH 480.

One of the myriad things I somehow managed to get done in Washington was arrange for the first guest speaker of the semester in MATH 480: my new colleague from Clemson, Nikos, offered to speak on the semester's third Wednesday, two weeks hence. Much appreciated, Nikos!

What else went on at this year's JMM?

Six of our sixteen REU students from the past two years were present, and all were presenting research in some form or another. Two of them, Nestor and Norton, won prizes for their contributions to the undergraduate poster session (Nestor's poster dealt with work he completed at his second REU this past summer). Most of us got together for a lovely dinner on Tuesday night of the conference.

The Fifth Annual Semi-Official Vanderbilt Mathematics Department Reunion Dinner had five attendees this year, the smallest it's been since its inception. Timing the dinner was a pain in the patoot: there were three other mathematicians and assorted hangers-on present at the meetings, but they were unable to reconcile their schedules with everyone else's. Bummer.

I managed to make a few new contacts in the math/poetry community, including a number of other readers in the Wednesday night poetry reading (good to meet you, Kaz, if you're reading this, and thank you for all of your organizational ability, Katarina!) and a fellow faculty member who, like me, is using poetry in her classrooms in order to instill confidence in struggling students (props, Lorena!). Incidentally, if you're at all intrigued (as a poet, as a mathematician, or as both) by math poetry, you should do yourself a favor and find a copy of Strange Attractors (available from A.K. Peters Press, edited by Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney), from which a number of last week's readings came.

Tip and I and Klaus, our colleague from Chemistry (hereinafte known as "The Shepherd"), made it over the river to Virginia to hold a highly productive meeting with one of the nabobs of the NSF. We got a number of practical suggestions regarding our still-in-progress vertically-integrated U/K-12 community outreach program proposal. Progress! Ah, elusive thing...

...and somehow I managed to make it to twenty-odd talks ranging from combinatorics to mathematical biology. That's "twenty-odd" with a hyphen. Although it must be admitted that some of them were odd indeed.

Finally, I should say that shout-outs go to some of my best friends whom I don't see nearly often enough, including the Vandy folks and the stalwart sterling dots who still manage to make it to most of the JMMs no matter where they're held.


...tomorrow, huh?

I think I'm ready.

I'm starting MATH 280 off in the same manner I've started it off the last two times I've taught it: the first activities (both in-class and take-home) are highly intentional writing exercises designed to get students thinking about just what it means to write in mathematics, and it gets them doing peer review right away. Moreover, the exercises always prove immensely fun and popular.

Both Calc I and Abstract II get underway with review exercises. After doing a bit of brainstorming together on the first day of class, Friday will give the students a chance to strut their stuff as I'll be asking them to pair up between tomorrow and Friday and develop brief presentations on various topics from the relevant course material (Precalc and Abstract I, respectively).

And Senior Seminar? I'll figure that out when I get there. I think by 4:10 everyone (including me) is going to be so zombified that I'd be amazed if we get anything fruitful finished. I'll probably just make sure everyone's on board with the format, and maybe lead a discussion on what elements make up a good math talk. My hope is that in the first couple of weeks we can come up with a commonly-created rubric for oral presentations.

What else? Hmmmm...

...I'm going to go for now, and try to enjoy my last hours of relative boredom.

Tomorrow: class-by-class updates, as per custom.

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