Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Freshmen Are Wonderful

I teach a one-credit honors seminar for freshmen. I'm sort of conflicted about teaching this class (even though I do it every semester -- different topic each time).

On the one hand, it is an awful lot of work since it's a discussion-based class on a "nifty" topic. Takes a lot more work than just showing up and demonstrating algorithms (or proving famous things). I have to assign readings that will lead to mathematical things that a wide variety of freshmen can talk about. They're all really smart freshmen, but they are still freshmen. And not all of them are mathy.

However, it is a lot of fun. It forces me to go through and learn something new so that I can keep up with them. And honors students are really neat people. I'm using the book Sync by Steven Strogatz. We've been talking about synchronous fireflies. Next week we'll do some calculations and prove something. Then I think we'll talk about a little bit of graph theory.

This semester I decided that I'm going to have a lot of meta stuff in this class. I'm trying to get them to know everyone in the class, so we do a fair amount of small-group stuff in class (and then switch groups). I've decided to spend the first 5 minutes or so of class giving a mini-lecture about how the university works. Today I told them about calendar issues -- the final exam schedule, the academic calendar, and the timing of spring term registration (timetable released on the 21st, priority registration starts the 28th) and what they need to do so that they can take advantage of the honors program putting them in the first registration group. Next week I may talk about petitions (as in the process to get permission to fulfill a requirement in a non-standard way).