Ticklish Ears

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Math 101: The First Day

Not much to report, really. I was not as polished as I’d like to have been because I was burning off a lot of nervous energy - this is a very dfferent course for me: first math course I’ve taught in a long time, largest number of sudents in one class, most diverse group of students I’ve taught to date.

We went through the usual syllabus drill, and I tried to spell out the most important parts of the course. Then we got down to business. I broke them into groups of three. My first stumble: I cut out a bunch of squares of paper numbered from 1 to 10 (expecting to have 10 groups of about three each). I handed the numbered squares out at random. And I told students to get together with other students who shared their number. Did you know that a 6 looks just like a 9 if you turn it upside down?

When I solved that problem, I had groups working on different problems from the first chapter of Burger and Starbird; these included the Monty Hall problem (should a contestant change his mind about door selection after more information is revealed?), the problem of trying to measure out eight ounces when all you have are ten ounce and six ounce cups, and an interesting two-player game that is supposed to introduce them to Cantor’s diagonalization problem (we shall see).

After letting them work a while, we discussed each problem as a class. I mapped out solutions on the board (some groups had solved their problems, some hadn’t). I tried to explain the significance of each story, just as the authors do. Then I ended class with a reminder to read up for our Thursday session (a discussion of probability).

Could have gone more smoothly, but it wasn’t bad for the first day. I think many of the students are trying to figure out where I come from, because I’m betting I don’t fit their view of a math professor.

We’ll see how things go on Thursday.

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