This term I’m teaching Mathematics for All, a first-year seminar, which at Middlebury means that I have sixteen new students in a writing-intensive course.  On the first day, I did as I was told and asked the students to write a short piece in class.  (This so that I could flag any students with obvious writing difficulties.)  “Describe a memorable moment in your mathematical education,” I said.  For some, it was a light bulb moment, such as finally understanding why 0.999… = 1.  For others, specific teachers in particular incidents came to mind.  One student wrote about being a math tutor, and another has fond memories of learning math from her older brother.  Clearly I have a bright and thoughtful group, which will make my job more interesting, if not easier.

THIS JUST IN:  As I was typing the previous paragraph, I got an email from a student who had come across a “slide show of infographics” from past issues of the Economist, which relates to our class readings and conversations about quantitative literacy.  This on a Friday afternoon at 5:20.  I rest my case.

Making math teachers’ jobs harder, on the other hand, are journalists who can’t write about mathematics without inserting a jab of some sort.  You may have noticed that I’ve started a collection of unfriendly opening lines from articles relating to mathematics.  If you come across others, let me know.  This is not meant to include any old examples of journalistic innumeracy; I couldn’t handle the volume.  There’s a collection of those from the Forsooth feature at the Chance News wiki.


About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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2 Responses to Openings

  1. Did you have the students share their writing with their peers? In my junior-senior level courses (which usually have 30-35 rather than 16), I have students write a short autobiographical excerpt about themselves for the first homework. Then they each read one line from it on the second day of class (we sit in a big circle to do this). This activity has consistently been a great way to build community in my classes, and also helps give me some unique “marker” with which to get to know individual students.

  2. Priscilla Bremser says:

    Yes, Ben — peer review is an important part of my first-year seminar, thanks to the advice and support I’ve gotten over the years from the writing gurus at our Center for Teaching and Learning. The students often write more authentically and with less jargon when they know that classmates will read their work, and they get something out of reading work from a variety of peers over the term. But I like your idea for upper level math classes; it makes it clear that you’re interested in the students as humans, and it helps them to get to know each other.

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