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June 4, 2010, 8:54 am

Plagiarism in high school

Turnitin logo
Image via Wikipedia

About two dozen seniors at Hamilton Southeastern High School in the affluent northern suburbs of Indianapolis have been caught plagiarizing in a dual-enrollment college course, thanks to turnitin.com. Full story with video here, and there’s an official statement from the HSE superintendent on this issue here (.DOC, 20KB).

This would be an ordinary, though disappointing, story about students getting caught cheating if it weren’t for some head-scratchers here. First, this bit from the superintendent’s statement:

We took immediate action because the end of the school year was rapidly approaching. Several students were in danger of not graduating on time. We found a teacher who was willing to step up and administer a complete but highly accelerated online version of a class that would replace the credit that was lost due to cheating. Each student who wishes to graduate…

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May 15, 2010, 11:41 am

The semester in review

Plot of the vector field f(x,y) = (-y,x).

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve made it to the end of another semester. Classes ended on Friday, and we have final exams this coming week. It’s been a long and full semester, as you can see by the relative lack of posting going on here since around October. How did things go?

Well, first of all I had a record course load this time around — four different courses, one of which was the MATLAB course that was brand new and outside my main discipline; plus an independent study that was more like an undergraduate research project, and so it required almost as much prep time from me as a regular course.

The Functions and Models class (formerly known as Pre-calculus) has been one of my favorites to teach here, and this class was no exception. We do precalculus a bit differently here, focusing on using functions as data modeling …

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February 14, 2010, 10:35 pm

Must the tenure process really be like this?

Like a lot of people in higher ed, I’ve been following Friday’s deadly shooting at the University of Alabama-Hunstville. (Click the link for background in case you missed the story. I have no idea how much press it is or is not getting in the national mainstream media.) It’s known that Amy Bishop, the UAH biology professor being charged with the shooting, was denied tenure in April and had made an unsuccessful appeal regarding her tenure denial. It’s not clear that the shooting was related to the tenure situation, but the speculation — especially in the article at the second link — is that there’s a connection.

What is clear, at least from my perspective as a professor and as somebody in the fourth year of a five-year appointment to my college’s Promotion and Tenure Committee, is that something is really badly wrong with UAH’s tenure system, and perhaps with tenure as a concept….

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February 8, 2010, 7:00 am

A simple idea for publishers to help students (and themselves)

OXFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08:  A student reads...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I’m doing some research, if you can call it that, right now that involves looking at past editions of popular and/or influential calculus books to track the evolution of how certain concepts are developed and presented. I’ll have a lot to say on this if I ever get anywhere with it. But in the course of reading, I have been struck with how little some books change over the course of several editions. For example, the classic Stewart text has retained the exact wording and presentation in its section on concavity in every edition since the first, which was released in the mid-80′s. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with a particular way of doing things, if it works; but you have to ask yourself, does it really work? And if so, why are we now on the sixth edition of the book? I know that books need refreshing from time to time, but five times in 15…

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January 12, 2010, 10:45 am

Piecewise-linear calculus part 2: Getting to smoothness

Secant line on a curve
Image via Wikipedia

This is the second post (here’s the first one) about an approach to introducing the derivative to calculus students that is counter to what I’ve seen in textbooks and other traditional treatments of the subject. As I wrote in the first post, in the typical first contact with the derivative, students are given a smooth curve and asked to find the slope of a tangent line to this curve at a point. But I argued that it would be more helpful to students’ understanding of the derivative to start with a simpler case first, namely to use only piecewise-linear functions at the beginning. This way, as we saw, we can develop some important core ideas about the derivative without resorting to anything more than pictures and an occasional slope calculation.

But now, we need to deal with the main problem: What happens if we do have a smooth curve, not a straight line or…

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January 4, 2010, 7:00 am

Wolfram|Alpha as a self-verification tool

Last week, I wrote about structuring class time to get students to self-verify their work. This means using tools, experiences, other people, and their own intelligence to gauge the validity of a solution or answer without uncritical reference an external authority — and being deliberate about it while teaching, resisting the urge to answer the many “Is this right?” questions that students will ask.

Among the many tools available to students for this purpose is Wolfram|Alpha, which has been blogged about extensively. (See also my YouTube video, “Wolfram|Alpha for Calculus Students”.) W|A’s ability to accept natural-language queries for calculations and other information and produce multiple representations of all information it has that is related to the query — and the fact that it’s free and readily accessible on the web — makes it perhaps the most powerful self-verification tool…

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January 1, 2010, 12:00 pm

Friday Random 10: 1/1/2009

No re-start of this blog would be complete without a return to the Friday Random 10 feature, where I pull off 10 random songs in a row from the iPod and do some kind of video focus on one song or artist that shows up. Here you go:

  1. “Black Friday” (Steely Dan, Katy Lied)
  2. “Broken” (Jack Johnson, Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies (Curious George soundtrack))
  3. “Hammer to Fall” (Queen, Classic Queen)
  4. “The Dancing Flowers” (The Wiggles, Whoo Hoo Wiggly Gremlins)
  5. “Work in Progress” (Alan Jackson, Drive)
  6. “Let Everything That Has Breath” (Phillips, Craig, and Dean, Let My Words Be Few)
  7. “Spanish Fantasy” (Phil Keaggy, Acoustic Sketches)
  8. “Can You (Point Your Fingers and Do the Twist)” (The Wiggles, Here Comes the Big Red Car)
  9. “Partita #3 (iv)” (Paul Galbraith, Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas)
  10. “The Calling” (Yes, Talk)

If by some accident you have never heard of Phil Keaggy (#7),…

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