Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wrapping up

The end is near! (I realize I've been saying this a lot lately, but it's more and more true each day.) We've got just under a week of classes left, with only one more meeting of MATH 480 and three each of Calc II and 280.

My last "regular" meeting of MATH 179 was this morning. We dedicated the day to a free-wheeling discussion of the past semester, focusing on the three central purposes of the class: (1) learn how math is experienced from place to place and across time, (2) learn a bit about a liberal education in general and UNCA in particular, and (3) get some practice in writing academically in a specific discipline, and for specific purposes.

Students pointed out some of the course's strengths: it helped fine-tune their writing skills, gave them a broader view of mathematics, and offered a forum where they could talk about random school-related matters with students in similar situations without fear of looking like fools. They pointed out some rough spots, too: the first text we used (by Ascher) was awful, and the 9:25 time slot wasn't the most conducive to student excitement. A couple of students indicated that I should teach the course again, and I suspect that the next time around it'll go much more smoothly. The students' take-home final exam, due in a week or so, asks them to reflect more intentionally on the three points I mentioned above; I'm sure I'll get from it an even greater sense of the course's strengths and weaknesses.

The MATH 280 students get their last exam tomorrow, too, and like the last it'll be a collaborative one. I was tremendously gratified by the students' reception of the last exam: the learning environment the students created and cultivated as they worked on the exam was a rich and fertile one. I have no doubt that many of the students, particularly those who may struggle more mightily than their quicker peers, learned more from working with one another than they would have from any other form of assessment. (Incidentally, I've been keeping track of collaboration networks on the collaborative exams I've given over the past couple of semesters, and I hope to begin tracking the data more carefully to try to analyze correlations between indices of collaboration like number of collaborators and measures of success like initial exam scores.)

The last 280 exam asks students to provide a few more "traditional" proofs, but, like its counterpart in MATH 179, it also asks the students to reflect on the course and identify specific topics they found interesting and write at length about those. My hope is that the exam will help me to discern which areas students are most interested in, and about which they feel most "iffy." This'll help me plan the course more appropriately in the future.

Speaking of course-planning...I've already got some ideas in mind (involving multiplication tables) for first-day activities for MATH 461 (Abstract Algebra I) this coming fall. I'm excited! I know it's several months off yet, but I'm looking forward to it already.

Before I go, I have to give a shout-out, to my colleague Kelli and to our first-year junior Kamryn, for spearheading the successful founding of a UNC Asheville chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM): wonderful first meeting! I look forward to seeing what activities the students can put together in the coming months.

P.S. -- I sent the first draft of my manuscript to the publisher today. Much happiness.

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