12 December 2007

Teaching courses for non-technical students

I just learned that I have been assigned to TA a course called "Ideas in Mathematics" (which, if I understand correctly, meets some sort of distribution requirement for the college as a whole, so will mostly be non-technically-oriented people) in the spring. I'm looking forward to this -- it'll be a nice change of pace from my usual teaching assignments (calculus) and I have all sorts of half-formed ideas about how mathematics should be presented in a non-technical setting that I'd love to be able to test out.

But I've never taught a course which wasn't calculus. So I ask you, my readers -- what's different about teaching these two kinds of courses?

7 comments:

Efrique said...

I can't answer your question, but I always tried to teach on as many different things as possible. It means more work (getting up to speed on stuff that's not always particularly familiar), but I feel that it has been very valuable.

Scott Carter said...

I just finished teaching,grading, etc. Finite math. First off, don't expect non-technical people to "get it," or to know where to get it. I asked my class to look up taxicab number 1729 for entertainment sake. They neither understood what a taxicab number was, nor did they show any sort of human interest in the story at large.

Second, many students were out and out rude. It was like teaching high school. By the end of the course, almost all the rude students had gone. The two basketball players(one male and one female) were extremely polite gracious and did well in the course. Our athletic department keeps close watch on our athletes. Others turned out to be quite good.

One student could not express himself in complete
sentences on his weekly quizzes. I kept telling him this, then I noticed he never picked up the old quizzes.

Taking attendance didn't work. The excuses for absences were extreme in the Jerry Springer sense.

In the end, I enjoyed the course, but I could not do my usual nerdy act. The aspects of probability that you might attempt, may go completely over their heads. You will have to teach them to add and subtract fractions, and you will have to get each and every one recite that a probability is a number between 0 and 1. Even then the chances of drawing an ace out of a 52 card deck will be 52 choose 4.

Anonymous said...

the "finite" course scott carter taught
was probably mostly a bunch of
wannabe business majors; no fun.
but the survey-for-mathphobes course
is usually a blast. and very often
some of the students who "get it"
quickest will have had the usual
bad experiences convincing 'em
that they're "just not good at math".
i'm thinking of subjects like
graph theory or symbolic logic
where you don't need to know
any highschool algebra --
or even rational number arithmetic --
to get started (which is of course
all we're gonna do *here* anyhow).
vlorbik

Aaron said...

I'm with Vlorbik---if I were teaching a course like that, I'd run as far from the reals and the rationals as possible. I have a feeling that certain parts of basic modern algebra, transfinite arithmetic, number theory, and other non-stereotypical math topics could be really cool for this sort of class, although I've never thought very in-depthly about it.

Scott Carter said...

No actually it is the only course that many will take. Moreover, it started with truth tables. It should be fun! I had fun, and some students did. Others were hostile.
Yes, they had problems with arithmetic, and they also had problems reading a table of z-distributions. Oh well, it is over now.

Maria H. Andersen said...

You are lucky! If there was ever a time to teach a course like this, it is during an election year! Teach extensive units on voting methods, statistics interpretation, and fair division. I'd also recommend a unit on practical geometry. Placing tile, calculating the amount of paint to buy, etc.

I found this to be a really fun course to teach, and what a great opportunity to use some great math technology!

ProfdelC said...

I've been teaching closing in on 40 years, all levels, from Jr. high to graduate school...I have never treated my students like idiots; I always expect the best: some disapppoint me, some surprise me, none bore me. (I wouldn't take rudeness at the college level: you can always 'invite them' to leave.) That said, my suggestion is, teach to the 'middle.' If they all get it, ratchet it "up." If there are difficulties, reapeat it from another angle, and with other examples. In that way, the able feel good, the mediocre feel taught, and the poor do not feel abandoned...And expect that you'll end up with less than 100 pct of those who registered. You will not be teaching Math majors, so why should you expect them to act like Math majors? Good luck; and if you keep on teaching, welcome: it's a very exciting and rewarding way to spend your productive years. (And, by the way, I DO NOT dress, behave, act or otherwise "look like" the 'typical absent-minded prof';and my life interest do NOT all consist of "mathematica...") Good luck