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Exchanging Ideas on Math 101

Robert at Casting Out Nines has suggested that we cross-blog about our experiences with our Liberal Studies Math courses. Fair enough! I’ve created a new category, Liberal Studies Mathematics (as Robert has done), and will try to write about my thoughts and experiences in teaching this course.

This three-hour course is a core requirement in our Liberal Studies curriculum. It is waived for anybody who takes any higher-level mathematics course. About his Liberal Ed math course, Robert says:

… students take this course if they are not in a major that requires calculus (such as math, science, or business).

That’s not far off from how I’d describe the students in our Math 101 course, except that you could say they take this course if their major requires no other math. I’ll describe more about the content of the course in a later post, but I thought I’d get a bit into the mechanics in this post.

Let me be completely out in the open here. You can read through my syllabus here (if you’re up to it — it’s four pages long). Much of it I snipped from a sample syllabus provided in the instructor resources - prepared by a math prof named Ron Taylor at Berry College in Georgia, and some was taken from a syllabus created by our Math 101 Coordinator (she is passionate about the course and especially about the text. Her passion is contagious - I dare say it’s because of her advocacy in a departmental meeting that I volunteered to teach Math 101).

I was struck by several feature of Ron’s course:

  1. The use of an aesthetic critique for each homework:

    Your critique may provide alternate explanations of things, probe issues which may have caused confusion, amplify or clarify the successes or failures of your thought process, or anything which shows some serious thought about the homework set. The critique should be more than an off-hand reaction like “I thought it was interesting.” A comment could be critical or questioning, wondering or insightful, positive or negative, but it should be coherent and focused. Keep in mind that the commentary is a reflection of your own thinking and provides an opportunity for you to keep track of how your thinking may be changing.

  2. The requirement for students to schedule a time to pick up their graded exams and conduct a “post-mortem” with the instructor (I like this so much, I’m incorporating it into my Theory course).
  3. The opportunity to exercise some control over how much each grade component is weighted (I’m also incorporating this into my Theory course).

I also liked his concept of a term project, so I left that in as well. To all of this, I added my own twist. Students have the option of participating in online discussions on a weekly basis. I really want to encourage involvement and exploration, and I hope this will provide incentive for doing that.

Everything starts tomorrow. This will be a Tuesday/Thursday class for me (which means each class session will be 1 hour and 15 minutes long). Tomorrow will be introduction and groupwork on some of the introductory “math puzzles” in the first chapter of Burger and Starbird, just to whet their appetite.

I’ll try to report on the results tomorrow.

2 Responses to “Exchanging Ideas on Math 101”

  1. Robert Says:

    A 75-minute time block for these students is going to be a real challenge. What kinds of in-class activities are you thinking about doing?

    How does the aesthetic critique figure into the grading? Is it some percentage of the homework grade? Have you got a grading rubric for it, if it’s going to be graded?

    The “Positive Learning Environment” component is a pretty clever way to address the sort of thing you were talking about here.

  2. David Says:

    Sorry to take so long to answer you, Robert. As for the 75-minute time block, what kind of activities? I don’t know, but lots and lots, for sure. For example, tomorrow, we’ll flip, spin and balance pennies to determine whether they’re fair, we’ll simulate the Monty Hall game with playing cards, we’ll explore the oh-so-surprising birthday problem (how many people do you need in a room to have a 90% probability that two people will have the same birthday?), and we’ll look at a problem involving conditional probability (although we won’t call it that).

    But now I’ve given away most of what I planned to cover in my Thursday post! Oh no!

    Well, since things don’t always go as we plan, I’ll probably have new stuff to cover.

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