Sunday, February 07, 2010


The semester began with a truncated week, half of the department gone to the Joint Math Meetings in San Francisco. Two weeks later I scrubbed a Friday class to make way for a writing workshop that would never be, and since then (just in the past week and a half) we've had two late starts and a full-out cancellation, the latter making academic my decision to cancel my Friday class for the second time for the non-existent workshop.

The upshot? We've yet to hit our stride.

Calculus II seems to be chugging along nicely, but I feel like Topology's full of fits and starts. Half of the students enrolled in the course are each going through one or another personal crisis, and various tricky concepts are tripping up all but the strongest among them. For instance, the definition most central to the course, namely that of topology, involves a set whose elements are sets; the same is true of basis, and the relationships between these two sets of sets are subtle and anything but clear. What's helped them most so far is to emphasize and re-emphasize that

1. nothing will help one more than knowing the definitions inside and out, and the relationships between them;

2. one is not really thinking about a problem if one is not writing about it, drawing pictures to help oneself understand it, or experimenting with various methods with which one might solve it: one must write to learn; and

3. the most important things to record in performing any proof are what you know and what you need: having written these down explicitly will often take one halfway to the end of the proof.

I've not yet heard much from the students regarding how they feel about the homework presentations, but they've been stepping up to the plate: for Homework 3 all five problems were covered.

We'll find a groove.

Meanwhile both the weather and overly complicated scheduling issues have wreaked havoc on committee schedules, and our faculty search has eaten up hour after hour in places scattered throughout my calendar. (Incidentally, the candidates who've visited us so far have given me a good deal of food for thought regarding teaching and learning, but at this time, with a week or two left in the search, I don't feel it would be right to say much about it.)

What's the next week hold in store? Two more candidate interviews, more preparations for the upcoming MAA conference at Elon University and next fall's conference on math and poetry, and work on several writing-related projects. So much going on, so little time to finish it all...let me know if you want in on the action.

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