Policies for Math Thought
last modified 1/24/00
Instructor: Janice Sklensky
Office Phone: (508)286-3970
Office: Science Center 103
Office Hours: see schedule
Below, I discuss
Excursions in Mathematics, byTannenbaum and Arnold. and the associated web site
In ``Math Thought'',
you will learn and think about various areas of modern mathematical
how it is applicable. You will also think about how math (beyond
arithmetic) is already a
part of your life. The more open you are to these ideas,
the more interesting you will find this class.
We will discuss some of the interesting and beautiful
mathematics surrounding us: the mathematics behind elections and
determining how many representatives each state has in congress; the
most efficient route doing errands or deploying a delivery truck, the
cheapest way to visit a number of cities (or the best route for an
exploratory vehicle to travel in); the mathematics behind symmetry and
how mathematics is affecting modern art, through
In addition to the topics discussed above, you will also have ample
opportunity to bring some of your own interests into this class, and
to investigate how math relates!
This class satisfies the math and logic requirement, and consequently
you are expected to work and learn. As with all college classes, you should expect
to work a minimum of 2 hours outside of class for every 1 hour in
class, or 6
hours a week, outside of class.
Is this the right course for you?
Being interested and willing to work
are the primary qualifications: humanities, fine arts, social
sciences, and science majors alike
can find much to intrigue them in this class!
However, there are some people for whom this is not the right class.
Students whose schedule makes more than one
math class undesirable need to think about their needs: those who might
major or minor in psychology, sociology, biology, education, political science,
or economics may be required
(or recommended) to take other math
People who want to learn techniques they'll use often (as opposed to
learning some of the ways math relates to the world around you) may want
taking Statistics or Universal Machines. Also, those who think a math class should
consist of homework problems may want to take a different class,
although I'm not sure we offer such a class at
Please come visit me! If you come during my
office hours, you do not need to make an appointment beforehand. You
are also welcome to stop by anytime, as I'm
in my office during much of the day. Come to chat
about mathematical thoughts, or bring questions. If you do have
questions, come right away, don't stew over them and let them evolve
into a serious situation!
The point of this class is to begin to relate Math to the world
around you. To encourage you to do this, you will keep a journal that
you will turn in weekly.
What do you write in this journal?
Did you encounter math in an
unexpected place? Did you hear about something mathematical that intrigued you?
Is the class material making you think about the world in a new way?
In a separate folder, jot down any
such thoughts you want to share with me (at least 3 sentences a week). Each
Friday, you will hand these in. I will write brief responses when appropriate,
and return them to you on Monday. These are not busy work--I've
found that the journals keep students interested, and create some really interesting dialogues.
For each week you hand in the journal, you'll receive 2 points for an
entry that is at least 3 sentences long and which discusses matters
such as those described above. If you're blanking on such
thoughts, I'm also interested in well or poorly you think you're
understanding the material we're learning in class. For such
entries, you'll receive 1 point. The only way to get 0 points for an
entry is if you say something like ``I was too busy to have math
thoughts this week''--you're probably having mathematical thoughts
all the time, you just don't know it!
I will assign many problems every week. I will not collect them, so
it is your responsibility to stay caught up. Work on the
problems in whatever combination of individual and group effort you
find works best for you.
The problems will be posted on the course web page (see the above web
address), no later than Wednesday of each week. (The first week, they
will be posted on the web before the first class). You are to have
done them all by Wednesday. On Wednesday, I will answer a few
questions on the problems.
Keep all your problem sets for reference purposes. I have answers to
many of the problems in a binder in my office; please feel free to
come by and look at them.
Projects allow you to investigate questions of greater depth than
weekly problem sets and quizzes allow. It is also important to learn how to
communicate complicated ideas to non-specialists, no matter what
field you end up in.
We will therefore have
two types of projects.
- Individual Projects:
This class serves a broad spectrum of students, and so I
give you several opportunities to bring your
interests into this class.
You will pick some (non-mathematical) topic that interests you,
investigate how math is related to it, and either give a brief
spoken commercial break to the class discussing it, or for those few who
really refuse to speak in public, a written commercial is also an option (but it's
Before the official sign-up period begins, I will be giving you an
in-depth description of these projects, plus a list of some possible
This project is worth 20% of your grade. Expect to spend a lot
of time on it. If you give yourself enough time, and are willing to
enjoy it, I think you'll find it really rewarding.
This is another opportunity for you to explore any aspect of math that
interests you. It is more versatile than the commercial:
you can explore an idea in the same way that you do for the
commercial, but you can do other activities as well. You
can write a poem using mathematical ideas, design a tiling of the
plane (this is a mathematical term, and would need to be explored),
explore alternative voting methods, etc, compose a piece of music or
visual art based on mathematical ideas, etc.
I will give you a list of some few possible activities in a few
- Group Project:
You will work with a group to analyze the results of an election we
will hold in class. Your group will then jointly write a paper
describing your results in a way that is comprehensible to your
intended audience (who has not yet been determined).
Should it turn out that you are disappointed with the score you receive on the project,
you are welcome to rewrite it, to receive up to 1/2 the points you missed.
I will give you guidelines for how
your paper should be written when the time comes.
It is important that you stay on top of the material, and that I
have a sense for who is having difficulties (so that we can address
them early on). To help with both of those goals, every
Friday at the beginning of class, I will give a brief quiz
covering the problem set due that Wednesday. You may begin the quiz
before class if you feel you need extra time.
I will drop the lowest quiz score at the end of the semester.
I will also want to occasionally make sure that each of you is
learning the material in more depth than the quizzes can
determine. To that
end, we will have two midterms and one cumulative final.
These exams will be untimed, and you will be allowed to bring in one
8 1/2'' x 11'' sheet of notes, handwritten by you, front-side
only. (Notes will not be allowedon the quizzes.)
If you are disappointed with the score you receive, you may rewrite the exam,
to receive up to 1/3 the points you missed.
The two midterms will be
given on Tuesdays, outside of class, to allow you to take your
|Exam || Date |
|Midterm 1 || Tuesday, March 7 |
|Midterm 2 || Tuesday, April 17 |
|Final || Monday, May 8, at 2pm|
Notify me in advance, either by phone or
by e-mail, if you can not take the exam that Tuesday.
If your reason
is acceptable, we will arrange that you take the exam the preceding
Monday. If your
reason is not acceptable, or if you miss an exam
without notifying me in advance,
I reserve the right to not give you a make-up exam.
not give any student more than one make-up exam during the semester.
Clearly, missing class is not a wise idea.
If you do miss
class, it is of course your responsibility to
find out any assignments, and to get a copy of the notes and of any
I expect to use the weights below, although I reserve the right to
change my mind if the semester does not go as expected.
If you question the fairness of any grade, bring it to me within a week of
|Journal || 5% |
|Quizzes || 20% |
|Commercial|| 20% |
|Independent Activities || 5% |
|Group Project || 8% |
|Midterm Exams || 12% each |
|Final Exam || 18% |
Please remember to abide by the Honor Code. I take the Honor Code
seriously, and will bring a case before the Hearing Board if I see or
find anything suspicious.
Group Project: You may work with anybody you want.
Each member of your group must participate in, and understand,
everything in your paper. While you may use any reasonabl resource
(former students' old papers are not reasonable), you must cite references.
This not only includes any
textbooks, but also naming anybody you worked with or got help
Commercials: You are welcome to consult any source,
as long as the end product represents your own work.
Quizzes and Exams: You may not use your books, notes, colleagues or friends as
reference during the quizzes. The same goes for your exams, except
for the one page (front only, handwritten by you, etc) of notes I
allow you to have.
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Science Center, Room 109
Norton, Massachusetts 02766-0930
TEL (508) 286-3973
FAX (508) 285-8278
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