Thursday, February 02, 2012

Georgia on my mind

I just got back from a lovely overnight trip to Kennesaw State University, where I had a chance to give a talk on the mathematics of the Incan khipu (often spelled quipu) and hang out with Zima, one of my best friends from grad school, who's on the faculty at KSU. Zima'd asked me to spend an hour with her department's faculty, talking with them about writing in the disciplines and writing-to-learn activities, which I was more than happy to do.
One of her colleagues gave me some neat teaching ideas, including the following writing exercise: take a valid mathematical statement (printed out), one with which your students are not familiar, chop it up into its individual words, and scramble it. Give it to your students and challenge them to recreate a valid mathematical statement from the scrambled words, using every word exactly once. This exercise helps students to make sense of the grammar and semantics of mathematical prose, whose density often obscures its meaning.

Later in the afternoon (after a lovely lunch playing catch-up with Zima), I delivered a presentation titled "The traditional mathematics of Peru: khipu and khipumakers" as part of KSU's Year of Peru activities. The audience was made up of faculty and students from across the KSU campus, including a good number of math-anxious folks who were more interested in the "Peru" part of the talk. Overall, I think the presentation went well, even the bit where I had all of the people in the audience making their own khipu cords. Khipu (about which you can learn much more here) offer the most salient example of Incan mathematics, as well as a touchstone of cultural determinacy: khipu demonstrate assertively that math is a cultural artifact, a product of human society. (Moreover, they're beautiful, as a peek at the gallery at the above link will show.)

I'm back home now, and am looking forward to tomorrow's attack on a new Calc III problem set, and a couple of meetings on the curriculum review (well, not really looking forward to the latter, but they'll come nonetheless...). Meanwhile, I'll savor the last sweet sips of today.

Yup, it was a good day.

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