Category Archives: Uncategorized

February 7, 2014, 2:00 pm

Weekend reading (February 7)

Sorry that this week has been a little off on the posting frequency side. It’ll pick back up soon. In the meanwhile, here are some shiny items from around the web:

Math:

  • Neat article from John Baez on the use of category theory in control theory. I like how he describes category theory as a way of formally studying anything that can be diagrammatically expressed.
  • Mathematicians have found that the Rubik’s cube has a Hamiltonian circuit – a sequence of quarter-turn moves that will generate all the 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 positions that a Rubik’s cube can attain, and then on the next move restore it to its original state.

Technology:

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January 18, 2014, 9:10 am

The Joint Meetings: talks, mathematical beauty, and scarce wifi

Greetings from Baltimore, where I am currently at the American Mathematical Society/Mathematical Association of America Joint Meetings. As noted in my last post, this is the Big Annual Meeting for mathematicians. It’s not as juicy as the MLA meetings and I will not be giving  detailed analysis like Tenured Radical gave of the AHA meetings. Mostly this is because somehow I managed to sign up to give four presentations at the Joint Meetings and do another presentation on a Project NExT panel. (What can I say? I have poor impulse control.) So I’ll keep my observations confined to this one post.

What I’ve seen and noticed at the Joint Meetings:

1. Giving five 15-minute presentations at the same conference does not seem like that much work after having done a 90-minute plenary talk and a couple of 6-hour workshops. But it’s too much, because I really haven’t been able to focus on what …

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December 17, 2013, 9:49 am

Back in the saddle

Well, it’s been a few weeks months since I last posted here. The blog is still alive and so am I. I had to put this blog on unintended, unannounced hiatus for a couple of reasons.

First, and I’m glad for this, Fall semester was a hugely busy time for my speaking and consulting activity. If you go back to August, this semester I gave eight presentations – three of those being intensive workshops on the inverted classroom, and one of which was a keynote presentation at the MichMATYC conference. I really enjoy doing this sort of thing but at one point in October I was averaging one of these a week, and these presentations aren’t quick to produce. I’ve complained in the past that the people who tend to see running around to education conferences and telling people how to be better teachers are not themselves in the classroom; now I understand why. There’s just no way you can…

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December 24, 2012, 3:34 pm

Merry Christmas

It’s not Thanksgiving, but during this season I’m very thankful:

  • For all of you who check in on this blog from time to time, who have it in your RSS feeds, and who add your comments.
  • For the Chronicle, for having the momentary lapse in judgment that led to me being part of the blog network since last fall.
  • For the Chronicle web development team, working behind the scenes to keep all these sites up and running.
  • For my online friends from Twitter and Google+ who interact with me these and give me a tiny slice of a tight budget of attention.

Being able to write about math, education, and technology here at Casting Out Nines is a great privilege. I’m humbled to be able to do it, and I’m looking forward to good conversations in 2013.

I’m taking the rest of this week off to hang out with my wife and kids and friends. In the meanwhile, enjoy Christmas. In my Christian faith…

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November 5, 2012, 7:00 am

What do you do with all that class time?

It’s now week 11 of the semester, so it’s time for some updates on the flipped transition-to-proofs class. Also, this blog needs a jumpstart.

The flipped structure of the class presents a number of logistical and planning issues that can be challenging. For example, structuring the out-of-class reading/viewing activities can be tricky. So can staying disciplined so that you release screencasts at a reasonable pace without procrastinating. But the most challenging planning issue so far has been simply figuring out what to do in class and how to do it.

The whole reason I decided to flip this class was because students needed as much time hands-on actually investigating mathematical questions and writing proofs as possible. All the information transfer in a traditional setup was just getting in the way. So with the flip, all that transfer time is outside of class, leaving the…

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June 29, 2012, 2:23 pm

The summer of BYOD

So, the six-week Calculus 2 class is over with — that didn’t take long — and there’s beginning to be enough distance between me and the course that I can begin to evaluate how it all went. Summer classes for me are a time when I like to experiment with things, and I wanted to comment on the outcomes of one experiment I tried this time, which is using a bring-your-own-device setup for clicker questions.

I’ve been using TurningPoint clickers ever since I started doing peer instruction, and I recommend these devices highly. They have a lot going for them in terms of classroom technology: They are small and unobtrusive, relatively cheap ($35), exceedingly simple to use, rely on no pre-existing infrastructure (for example, whether or not you have decent wifi in the room), and are nearly indestructible. They are about as simple, dependable, and inexpensive as a radio-operated garage door…

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May 17, 2012, 12:15 pm

What constitutes peer review for textbooks — and who cares?

Via Inside Higher Ed, The University of Minnesota has started a web site to curate “open source” textbooks in a variety of subject areas. Right now, the mathematics selection consists of 15 titles, many of which can be considered open-access classics, including Strang’s Calculus, Bob Beezer’s “A First Course in Linear Algebra”, Tom Judson’s excellent Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications, and the Whitman Calculus book. In other words, these aren’t new titles created specifically for this website. But it’s nice to have these all curated in the same place. (I don’t know if UMN plans on solicit new works specifically for their website.)

The claim here is that open-access books** tend to have slow adoption rates because of the lack of “peer review” (and also because many faculty don’t know that open-access resources are out there), and the UMN website will provide some of that review …

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March 23, 2010, 1:25 pm

Programming, lectures, and the inverted classroom

Punch card from a typical Fortran program.
Image via Wikipedia

We started programming in the MATLAB course a couple of weeks ago. It’s been… interesting. Keep in mind that 75% of the students in the class have never written a program of any sort before; half the class rates themselves below a 6 out of 10 in “comfort level” in using computers at all. As with everything else in this course, the audience is everything.

I started this three-week unit last week with a minilecture on FOR loops. But wait, you say: I thought you were using an inverted classroom model for the MATLAB course, where students are assigned reading and viewing tasks outside of class, accompanied by homework assignments designed to help them extract the relevant information and then do simple applications of what they’ve learned. Well, yes, that’s been the plan, and the practice up until now.

But I decided to go with a minilecture/activity model for the…

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March 2, 2010, 10:00 am

Program note: ICTCM coming up

Just a note: I’ll be attending the International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (ICTCM) in Chicago next week, March 12–14. I’ll be giving two short talks there:

  • “Integrating spreadsheets, visualization tools, and computational knowledge engines in a liberal arts calculus course”, on Friday, March 12 at 11:30 AM. This talk is about how we use these kinds of technologies in our Calculus courses specifically to support the liberal arts mission of the college. I’ll be joined in this talk by my colleague, Justin Gash.
  • “Teaching MATLAB to a non-canonical audience”, on Friday, March 12 at 12:30 PM. This is on, you guessed it, the pedagogical and design issues behind the MATLAB course for a general audience which I have blogged about a lot here lately.

I’m also going to be participating in the Geogebra workshop on Saturday in preparation for my junior/senior-level…

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February 21, 2010, 9:30 pm

Five reasons you should use LaTeX and five tips for teaching it

Over the weekend a minor smack-talk session opened up on Twitter between Maria Andersen and about half a dozen other math people about MathType versus \(\LaTeX\). Maria is on record as being pro-MathType and yesterday she claimed that \(\LaTeX\) is “not intuitive to learn”.  I warned her that a pro-\(\LaTeX\)  blog post was in the offing with those remarks, and so it comes to this. \(\LaTeX\) is accessible enough that every math teacher and every student in a math class at or above Calculus can (and many should) learn \(\LaTeX\) and use it for their work. I have been using \(\LaTeX\) for 15 years now and have been teaching it to our sophomore math majors for five years. I can tell you that students can learn it, and learn to love it.

Why use \(\LaTeX\) when MathType is already out there, bundled with MS Word and other office programs, tempting us with its…

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