Sunday, September 03, 2006

My Honors Class

So once again I am teaching a bit of an amorphous honors course. In the spring I taught an interdisciplinary seminar on cryptology, for which the instrutions were: "pick a topic and teach something cool about it." Now I am teaching an honors course in the math department, the honors version of our gen-ed class for freshmen. The topics range from "a little of this" to "a little of that." The way that I've been teaching it so far would be the NORMAL version of a self-respecting gen-ed class if we admitted students who were prepared to do college-level math or if I taught at a selective college. Hey kids, this is what school would be like if you went to a REAL college.

The problem is that I'm not sure exactly what to teach or on what level. The students I have this semester are not all in some special program, and I don't think that they're as bright as my students from the spring. Maybe I'm just being sexist when I'm assuming this: My spring class was 75% male, and my current class is 75% female.

On Friday I talked about prime numbers. I'd like to follow it up with an application, so I'm thinking of taking a two-week detour into cryptology. Define some terms and talk about simple substitution and polyalphabetic ciphers, with an overview of pre-World War II ciphers. Spend some time on modular arithmetic, the Euclidean Algorithm, a few other odds and ends. Then sketch out the math behind RSA and talk a bit about internet security. Maybe we'll talk abouth the (lack of) security on the campus wireless network.

I'll use my handouts and worksheets from the spring. Supplement them with shiny new Keynotes. I'll grab some nice images off the internet: I'll use google maps to get a satellite picture of 9800 Savage Road, Fort George G. Meade, Md. We'll see how flashy I can make the math.

From there: back to the textbook, picking up with the proof that the square root of 2 is irrational.