academiamarginalia

The life and self-reflections of a professional mathematician

Category: comics

Statistics in Cartoons

This is the first book on statistics I read from cover to cover! :-)

I have serious doubts it can serve as a textbook, and I would be really surprised if someone without any knowledge of statistics could really learn it from this book. Gonick&Smith‘s book is a great source of entertainment for those who love cartoons – the cartoonist is the first author for a good reason – and love statistics, and, therefore, know it already at some level. I would definitely recommend it to both beginners (as a complementary text for keeping motivation) and to professionals (as, for instance, a perfect in-flight reading).

There is just one tiny thing I am not comfortable with: throughout the book authors maintain the idea that it is ok to be afraid of mathematics. I completely understand why they do this, yet I feel this is a wrong message. To me, to be afraid of mathematics is the same as to be afraid of dogs. Yes, indeed, a dog bite in childhood may develop a life-long phobia of dogs. Similarly, a bad first math teacher may cause a “math allergy” for the rest of life. However, it is not good to be scared of either. Both mathematics and dogs are our friends. Big friends, indeed!

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First Teaching Experience

My first semester of teaching is finally over! In this fall, I was teaching Math 118 “Fundamental Principles of Calculus,” the course that nobody wants to teach :)

The main lesson I have learned is that I have to do everything slower: to speak slower, to write slower, and, most importantly, do not erase things from the blackboard too fast. Students need some time to digest new material, regardless on how trivial this material is (or seems to be).

The main surprise was the overwhelming number of emails that in one way or another were related to teaching. The are exactly 115 days between August 22, 2011, the beginning of the fall semester, and December 14, 2011, the date of the final exam. Within this time slot, I received exactly 231 emails. It means, on averages, I was receiving 2 emails per day!

The main question I am still puzzled with is the following. How come that, although I can do this, I can’t do that, while almost all students in my class can. What is wrong with me? :)

P.S. In spring, I will be teaching two courses: Math 245 “Mathematics of Physics and Engineering,” and Math 408 “Mathematical Statistics.” Pretty exciting!

Why should social science students learn math fundamentals?

We all need a good reason to do things well and with pleasure. And the answer to the posed question is not obvious at all. “You will use the learned material in your future life” is a bad reason, since the statement is very likely to be false. “Because it is a requirement towards your degree” is an excuse rather than a good reason.

I can suggest two reasons – cultural and athletic – to hopefully increase your motivation.

  1. After you graduate, it would be nice not only to have a diploma, but also feel that you are indeed a well-educated person. A hundred years ago, to be well-educated, it was enough to be able to read. Nowadays the standards are slightly higher. Knowing and understanding of (very basic) concepts of mathematics is one of this standards.
  2. When we go to gym, we don’t have a goal to break a world record. We train our muscles just because we want to be in good shape and look good. Math is a gym for our brain-muscle. If we want to be in good intellectual shape, we need to workout in the gym.