Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Midsemester musings

We're about halfway through the semester now, and I have to say I'm enjoying teaching more than I have for a few years now. I love both of my classes and am having tremendous amounts of fun with both of them. The Calc III class is the most engaged math class I've had in several semesters: the students are eager, active, and awesome. And Oulipo...I don't know how we can fit so much fun into three fifty-minute periods each week. I wish we met for longer...

In Calc III I've been starting each Wednesday (the dreaded "hump day") with a contemplative exercise of some sort, much like the first, about which I wrote a few weeks back. The purpose of each exercise is to ask students to put themselves in a positive frame of mind, to reflect on something that's lifting them up and to cast aside something that's holding them down. Today I asked them each to write a simple haiku (no season indicators or "turns," just a simple 5-7-5 syllabic scheme) about their current state of mind. Though I saw a lot of counting on fingers, I also saw a lot of earnest scribbling. Though I don't collect a single word the students write in response to these simple prompts, I have no doubt most (if not all) of the students are taking the assignments seriously, and I hope that they're having salutary effects.

In Oulipo the most recent out-of-class assignment was to write a "lofty" poem elegizing a quotidian object. Each of us selected an everyday object that was then randomly selected by one of the others in the class. We were then each tasked with writing verse that we deemed "lofty" in some fashion, extolling the virtues of the object we'd been assigned. For many people "lofty" meant "classical," and several student wrote poems in a romantic style, with rime and meter appropriate to an 18th-century-or-earlier bard.

After we'd workshopped our poems and read a number of them out loud, we talked briefly about conventional devices we might make use of to "loftyize" a piece of non-lofty writing and as a group came up with the following:

  1. Germanic capitalizing: selectively or systematically capitalize nouns throughout the piece.
  2. Inverting: selectively or systematically invert the standard modern subject-verb order throughout the piece.
  3. Theethouizing: selectively or systematically turn "you"s into "thee"s and "thou"s throughout the piece.
  4. Oloizing: selectively or systematically insert "o!"s and "lo!"s throughout the piece.
  5. Adjectival inflating (a nod to n + 7): selectively or systematically replace each adjective with its longest synonym appearing in an agreed-upon thesaurus throughout the piece.
I'm going to try these out on a piece of non-lofty writing, maybe something from Jon Rogawski's Calculus...? Results posted soon...

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