Monthly Archives: August 2006

To Blog or Not to Blog?

This is the title of an article in a recent edition of i.e. (interactive educator, by Smart Technologies).  You can download this month’s magazine  by clicking on the image.  I was surprised at how insightful I found several of the articles in ths issue.  I didn’t quite know what to expect from an article in a magazine from a  technology company that is mostly interested in selling me something.  The article on “To Blog or Not to Blog” was  written by Wesley A Fryer, and he examines the pros and cons of incorporating student blogging.  I did expect, based on the title of the article, to be reading about why or why not I should be blogging as an instructor, but he included students in the equation as well.  I think the whole magazine is directed largely at K-12 educational environments, but the one thing that piqeud my interest was the idea of podcasting.

I thought I found a place online that maintains a list of math podcasts, but with a minor amount of effort put forth, I have not been able to locate it.  I did find a couple of interesting math podcasts: or

I have listened to the first podcast of mathgrad but none of dansmath so I am not necessarily recommending them.  I just want to mention that I am seriously considering the idea of incorporating the idea of an occasional podcast (audio only or video+audio) to this blog.  Most likely it would focus on unusually common mistakes that arise in my lower level courses such as Algebra, Trig or Calculus. 

I’ll keep you posted. 

Which is more fun?

Which is more fun,
a) Filling in for a colleague with sick kids, getting to teach her Abstract Algebra Class,
b) Filling in for a colleague with jury duty, getting to teach her College Algebra Class,
c) Typing up the committee minutes for last weeks Executive Committee Meeting, or
d) Designing and implenting a random knot search algorithm in paralleel for the Free-Knot problem?

Answer: Close between (a) and (d), but I have to go with (a) today.

I didn’t realize it until today, but it has been a good while since I have had the oppportunity to teach a theory class in mathematics. The closest was Differential Equations last semester, but in our undergraduate DE we rarely get to prove any good theorems. The most recent “proof” class was when I filled in for the same instructor last semester in Discrete Structures.

After getting my palate wet, I am ready for Analysis next semester. I have the opportunity to trade off with a colleague so that every time Intermediate Analysis comes around, we alternate who gets to teach it. Very few of my classes overlap other’s areas of specialty. At a small school like Wayland, there are only four math faculty, one of which is actually a physicist. We have a pure math person, an applied math guy (me), and a statistician. For only four faculty, we cover a pretty good spread. Also, the majority of our upper level courses are taught on a two year rotation, so that my favorite courses, such as Diff. Eq. or Math Models, only come around every couple of years. With the alternating of Analysis, I only get to teach it every 4 years. Early in my time at Wayland, I did get to teach it twice in a row, but now I’m being good and sharing my “toys”.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pray for my colleagues kids to get sick, but when I do get to fill in, I have a great time, even with the simple basic definitions of function/maps, image, 1-1, onto, composition, etc. Yes, I even had fun proving the composition of 1-1 (or onto) functions is 1-1 (or onto).

New Semester Underway

I am so glad to be back in the classroom. Every summer, I spend a significant portion of my time dedicated to research. As a result, each year at this time, I almost always convince myself to start looking for a full time position in a research institution, perhaps even leave the world of academia, altogether. But, then I step in to the classroom and I remember just how much of a passion I have for education. Particularly, I have a passion education at a faith-based institution like Wayland.

Here at Wayland, I have the opportunity to blend my faith with my professional life by praying for my students, using mathematical principles as illustrations for spiritual principles and helping students to see how we learn more about our Creator by studying the “language” of His creation.

I recount to my students each semester how I’ve been to a few professional development activities in which I was instructed on how to integrate faith and learning. In most cases, they present a spectrum of all classes sorted based on the ease of integration of faith into the classroom. On one end, they usually list things like Religion courses, Philosophy courses or even English and History courses that can incorporate more discussion. Way down at the other end, all the way at the end is Mathematics. I can understand their claim in one sense that the derivative of a function, or the complexity class of an algorithm, or simply the result of adding 2+2 is unchanged based on one’s faith or lack thereof. However, we are people studying a subject and as long as their are social interactions in the learning process, faith based learning, in my opinion, has its place in the mathematics classroom.

Sound Christian doctine does not allow you to separate your life into categories in which your faith is excluded. Even if you are in a state institution or a public school, you may be prevented from explicit references to your faith, but you cannot be prevented from living a life of character and integrity modeled after Jesus Christ. And for me, mathematics is excited and interesting because it is a revelation of God’s order, structure, and faithfulness to his creation.

Coming soon: Goals for teaching this semester

Changing Email notification

I am tired of trying to run my own SMTP server when I know so little about doing so. Maybe someday I will go back, but for now, I am going to use FeedBurner for my email notification. Everyone that is on my list will receive an email from me personally about the switch and, if all goes well, you will also receive an email from Feedburner asking you to activate your email subscription. If you desire, activate it, if not, ignore it.

I feel developed

So I’m back at work full time.  Today was the first full day I have spent back at Wayland after my summer “break.”  It was a full day of professional development meetings.  Ranging from departmental updates to actual faculty development, I must say it was, overall, a pretty good day.  I’m mainly comparing it to days past.  This is actually my 7th round of these meetings that start off every school year.  This year, our classes for the fall semester get started on Wednesday, August 23 so the layout of the next few days is as follows:

  • Wed., Aug 16: Faculty/Staff Development
  • Thu., Aug 17: Division Meetings, Faculty Assembly and Retirement Reception for long-time Wayland faculty member, Wayland Family Dinner (Cajun theme, yeehaw!), and “Over the Hedge” showing for the kids.
  • Fri., Aug 18: Student move-in, maybe more meetings, installing computer lab, class prep
  • Mon. Aug 21 (my 30th birthday): Schedule changes, class prep.
  • Tue., Aug 22: Registration, class prep.
  • Wed., Aug 23: First day of classes.

As I mentioned, I was pretty pleased with today’s professional development.  Here were the highlights in my eyes:

  • The retiring faculty member mentioned above is a former pastor and is retiring from the position of Chair of the Division of Religion and Philosophy.  He led us in a devotional in which he walked us through the difference between living a “good” life and a “great” life.  It’s just as important, maybe even more important to be “good”, rather than trying to be “great.”  Of course, the meaning behind “good” here is the sense of living with integrity, generosity, and decency.  Whereas, being “great” denotes excelling in whatever you do.
  • I got to be the butt of a couple of jokes as a result of an email mistake on my part the night before our meetings.  An email was sent out that assigned faculty and staff to committees.  I had been involved in the committee selection process.  The chair of the committee on committees inadvertently left my name off the list of participants in the selection process and so I emailed her back, letting her know of her mistake.  With a bit of jest, I complained but also thanked her for letting me avoid complaints and gripes from people not liking their committee placements.  Unfortunately, I hit the “reply to all” instead of just “reply”.  I ended up getting a good amount of complaints as result.  All in good fun.
  • Good statistics joke came up this morning as well:
    “Two statisticians went bow-hunting together.  After waiting a while, a buck came up near where they were.  The first statistician pulled back and fired a shot.  He missed just two feet behind the buck.  The next pulled back and fired his shot.  He missed just ahead of the buck by two feet.  So they gave each other a high-five and went home.” HT: Dr. Claude Lusk
  • I am mostly gold with some green.  We took a “True Colors” personality profile.  Turns out that I am an organized personality (gold) and a hard-worker/curious personality (green).  Big surprise.  This session simply served as a reminder that different personalities respond differently to various motivators.  It is important to incorporate a variety of approaches to learning that correspond to different personalities.  Not all learners are the same.
  • “Anyone? Anyone?”: The first seminar I attended after we broke up into smaller groups (~30) was one on learning to ask appropriate questions to aid in the learning process.
    >  I would like to incorporate a few more open questions in my courses.  These are questions without a specific answer but that several students can contributes ideas to.  For example, I might use questions such as “What are some applications of this particular model?” or “Which of these methods would be prefered? Why?”
    > Think-pair-share:  I like the idea of using short, quiz show like questions where the entire class can vote on the answer.  For example, I often will have the class work a specific problem then ask a few people to give their answers.  If there is more than one answer, I put it to the class for a vote.  If the class is fairly split on the vote, then we do a Think-Pair-Share activity.  They get together with a neighbor and share what they did and discuss the problem.  Then, I’ll put the class to a vote again.
    > 3 – 10 Second Rule:  Although I have become quite comfortable with silence after the question, I never was given good guideline as to how long to wait.  I think I am comfortable up to 6 seconds before I rephrase.  Although I have occasionally waiting even longer than 10.  One idea that was presented was the possibility of having a student rephrase the question for me, that is, if it is the question that is the problem.
    > I will work on giving stronger encouragement following correct answers. 
    > I still have no idea what the best way to handle the wrong answers.  I often feel that I am too harsh on the off-the-wall answers.  I know this discourages students from further responses.  The one tip given was to avoid, “Yes, but . . .” answers as they are really a back-handed complement.
  • Active Learning: The second seminar was regarding the use of Active Learning techniques.  A couple of items stood out at this seminar
    > According to a particular paper, an average of 5% of the material covered in a traditional lecture style class is retained by students after 24 hours.  An average of 75% of the material covered in an active learning environment is retained after 24 hours.  A colleague of mine made a good point about this statistic. If 100 topics are covered in traditional lecture verses 5 topics in an active learning environment, then what is the advantage? It is unclear whether his critique is valid without access to the paper .  
    > We covered some of the pros and cons of active learning environments.  I am certainly in favor of expanding my use of group learning exercises, projects, muddy points surveys (where is the material “muddy” or still unclear?), content mapping, etc.  The risks or negatives include a loss of control by the instructor, changing my role as instructor (from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”), sometimes more prep work, better assessments are needed, less material can be covered because of time constraints, risk of wrong information.  The pros include better understanding, more enjoyable learning environment, student relationships, better simulation of future work environments.
    >  Afterward, a colleague of mine and I had a discussion related to a problem we’ve both had in using group work environments, namely regulating the speed at which groups work.  Given a certain set of problems, there are usually a small number of students that can finish the problems very quickly and then most of the groups will take their time.  They then become a distraction to the rest of the class, or the rest of class time is a waste of their time, waiting for the other groups finish their work.  I’ve tried giving more problems to guarantee that the fast groups would not finish, but then this convinces the slower groups that it doesn’t matter how fast they go, they’ll never finish.  They then take even longer finishing only a single problem without much focus or drive to move on.  I’ve tried motivating them to work more dilligently by offering rewards or extra credit, but this tends to only motivate the faster groups to move even faster and with less interaction.  Again, the slower groups throw up their hands and resign themselves to not acheiving the extra credit.  If the readers of this blog have any other suggestions, I’m all ears.

I would simply say again that most of today was a successful development day, giving me a few ideas to incorporate.

A new server

There are currently a few bugs still to be worked out but, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the transition to the new server has gone fairly smoothly. You might’ve noticed my weather plugin on the sidebar is on the fritz.

The primary reason for the switch was that the previous server was a borrowed machine. It was here only until I found a suitable and affordable replacement. The $75 computer mentioned in yesterday’s entry was a perfect solution since it allowed me to toy with LINUX and do so cheaply.

I have some familiarity with LINUX and UNIX through my research that I did at the HPCC at TTU. The SGI Origin 2000 multiprocessor ran IRIX, the SGI version of UNIX. I can still remember my first few days learning it. It had been years and years since my experience in command line environments, even then it was either the Applesoft BASIC environment or booting MSDOS from the floppy. I wasn’t even in High School yet. Still, it helped quite a bit to have had that experience and to have developed a sense of “tinkering”.

As for my server, I went with the default configuration for the SUB-100, namely Xubuntu. As I understand it, this is probably the most ideal version of LINUX for an older machine. At any rate, I added Apache2, PHP, MySQL, ssh support, SAMBA (to share data on a recently purchased 160G hard drive with my windows machines on my home network), ftp support, an SMTP server (req. authentication), and I think that is about it.

Each step along the way took anywhere from a few minutes (Apache, PHP, MySQL) to 5 or 6 hours (SMTP, FTP). I am most proud to have successfully set up the webserver to point to my ext. hard drive and then also allow each of the other 3 computers that regularly use the home network to access it as a shared drive.

Some people fear change….

Not me, I fear stagnation. If something stays the same too long, I’ll break it, just to fix it. That is, as long as it relates to technology. I’ve had enough of that stupid swimming pool!