Wednesday, March 04, 2009

In Class Today

The early-morning class: We watched The Math Life. The other day for homework I gave the students a list of the famousest mathematicians in the film and had them look up 1-2 facts about each. I really love this film, but my students have no idea who Mike Freedman or Ron Graham or John H. Conway are. I'm hoping that looking the people up ahead of time will help. Yesterday USPS brought me my newly-ordered copy of Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension. I almost have enough math movies for us to watch a movie a week until the end of the semester. I think that in the fall I'm going to run a biweekly math movie night for the math majors.

The calculus class: We did max-min word problems. They are freaked out because they have no freakin' clue how to set up the equations from the words. They can do the calculus. The algebra slays them. For one of the problems (one with fairly modest algebra demands), I told them that it will be on the exam. I also assigned it for homework and put it on the review sheet. We'll see how they'll do on it. I don't feel bad giving them this gift because the max-min exam is always a total disaster. They forget the difference between a local max/min and a global max/min, and they freak out when they see word problems.

The rest of the day: A union organizer (full-time organizer, doesn't work for the university) stopped by my office, and I gave him a hard time. He started it by trying to use scare tactics about the terrible things that might happen. I restrained myself and did not say "We really need the total collapse of employer-based health plans to bring about real progress towards a single-payer system." Also spent a while trying to figure out which way is down when decreasing the value of the stack pointer.