# Category Archives: Uncategorized

March 23, 2010, 1:25 pm

# Programming, lectures, and the inverted classroom

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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…

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…

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…

February 5, 2010, 8:00 am

# Friday Random 10: 2/5/2010

Friday music time again, and just about the only thing I’ve had time to post this week due to classes starting back:

1. Texas Flood (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Greatest Hits)
2. 40 Days (Third Day, Come Together)
3. Who’s Been Talkin’ (Howlin’ Wolf, His Best: Chess 50th Anniversary)
4. Man in the Green Shirt (Weather Report, Best of Weather Report)
5. Waiting on the World to Change (John Mayer, Continuum)
6. Where You Are (Rich Mullins, The World As Best As I Remember It v. 1)
7. Heavy On My Mind (Back Door Slam, Roll Away)
8. Try (John Mayer Trio, Try! (Live))
9. Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman) (Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II)
10. Doing It To Death (James Brown, The CD of JB)

Normally I would take one of the entries in the list that gets my attention and do a video focus on it. This time… Well, the classic Led Zeppelin chestnut “Living Loving Maid” (#9) makes me think of the fantastic…

January 15, 2010, 10:45 am

# Friday Random 10: 1/15/2010

It’s that time of the week again:

1. Heart of the Heartland (various, Lewis & Clark soundtrack)
2. The Maker of Noses (Rich Mullins, The World As Best As I Remember It, vol 2)
3. Shot of Love (King’s X, Out of the Silent Planet)
4. Something to Believe In (Clannad, Past Present)
5. People Watching (Jack Johnson, Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies (Curious George soundtrack))
6. Cello Suite #6 (Mstislav Rostropovich, Bach Cello Suites)
7. Miracles Out Of Nowhere (Kansas, Leftoverture)
8. The Drift (Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, Three Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
9. Hold Me (Fleetwood Mac, Greatest Hits)

“Miracles Out of Nowhere” by Kansas (#7) is one of my favorite rock tracks. Here’s a live version (I can’t tell from where or when, but it looks recent):

That song is appropriate for today, too, since it’s my son’s first birthday. He was a…

December 30, 2009, 10:19 am

# Resisting the urge to verify

When I am having students work on something, whether it’s homework or something done in class, I’ll get a stream of questions that are variations on:

• Is this right?
• Am I on the right track?
• Can you tell me if I am doing this correctly?

And so on. They want verification. This is perfectly natural and, to some extent, conducive to learning. But I think that we math teachers acquiesce to these kinds of requests far too often, and we continue to verify when we ought to be teaching students how to self-verify.

In the early stages of learning a concept, students need what the machine learning people call training data. They need inputs paired with correct outputs. When asked to calculate the derivative of $$5x^4$$, students need to know, having done what they feel is correct work, that the answer is $$20x^3$$. This heads off any major misconception in the formation of the concept…

June 6, 2009, 3:06 pm

# Gender differences in math: Cultural, not biological

This report Frinom the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing an article in the June 1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that differences between boys’ and girls’ performance on standardized mathematics tests correlates with the level of gender equity and other socio-cultural factors in the country in which the test was taken.
The study’s co-author says:

“There are countries where the gender disparity in math performance doesn’t exist at either the average or gifted level. These tend to be the same countries that have the greatest gender equality,” article co-author Janet Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a university news release.[...]

“If you provide females with more educational opportunities and more job opportunities in fields that require advanced knowledge of math, you’re going to find more women learning and performing…

April 23, 2009, 8:54 am

# A calculus thought experiment

On Twitter right now I am soliciting thoughts about calculus courses, the topics we cover in them, and the ways in which we cover them. It’s turning out that 140 characters isn’t enough space to frame my question properly, so I’m making this short post to do just that. Here it is:

Suppose that you teach a calculus course that is designed for a general audience (i.e. not just engineers, not just non-engineers, etc.). Normally the course would be structured as a 4-credit hour course, meaning four 50-minute class meetings per week for 14 weeks. Now, suppose that the decision has been made to cut this to TWO credit hours, or 100 minutes of contact time per week for 14 weeks.

Questions: What topics do you remove from the course? What topics do you keep in the course at all costs? And of those topics you keep, do you teach them the same way or differently? If differently, then how would you …

January 15, 2009, 4:08 pm

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