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Showing posts from July, 2017

Random Dynamic Systems

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The old saw holds that you are doing well if you get a single new idea from attending an academic conference and I've usually found this to be true.  More often than not, however, the new idea isn't some grand sweeping theory.  It's likely to be a little gimmick, a way of passing out the syllabus or grading a paper.

This past June, for example, I attended the Teaching Professor Conference in St. Louis.  It's a three day teaching geek-fest for profs who want to share pedagogical methods and ideas.  On the first day I did a little workshop on how to get students to pose better questions and then spent the rest of the weekend hitting interesting sounding sessions.

One I attended concerned using improvisational theater techniques in the classroom.  The guy who led it was a former improv comedian turned math professor who uses on-your-feet improv techniques to demonstrate math concepts. Mathematicians, he explained, are very interested in random dynamic systems.  These ar…

The Satisfaction of Busting Suds

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It's heresy to say this, but teaching isn't really work. It's an activity and it involves effort, to be sure. But it isn't work.  That's a term that should be reserved for things that have discernible beginnings and satisfying endings.

Re-shingling a garage roof is work. Cleaning up the kitchen after a meal is work, but teaching?  I don't think so.  It just never gives you that satisfied sense of having definitively done something and done it well.

I am by reputation and student evaluations a "good teacher," but I never feel that way.  And I never get that sense of satisfaction you have when the last dish has been put away and the counter wiped clean. Indeed, I quite like to clean the kitchen, especially when I can let my partner stay at the table talking to friends over a postprandial cup of tea or glass of wine.  The bigger and messier the stack of dishes, the better I feel when everything is clean and squared away.

But why can't I ever feel t…