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Teaching Students to Write Mathematics II

Back to posts after the fun and games of updating my website and blog.

The second video on the Teaching Student to Write Mathematics DVD is by Franco Vivaldi from Queen Mary, University of London. He covers more than just techniques of encouraging mathematical writing. One point of interest, starting at about 9:00 in the video below, is the following slide:

Teacher versus student

Teacher versus student

The point here is to emphasize the difference between what lecturers see as important – theorems and definitions – and what students see as important – examples. I showed this part of the video during my CETL-MSOR talk and mentioned a student talk earlier in the day where students had said that what they want from lecturers is examples, examples, examples. (I probably came across as a bit more critical of them in my talk than I had intended!)

Although Franco’s point is far from new, I think the slide is well worth showing as it gives a wonderful visual and clearly makes the point. (On the video he says that theorems and definitions are just a beam of neutrinos for the students!)

By the way, I think Franco should add an extra box of examples that comes before and points to the theorems and definitions box since I believe that examples come before theorems. After all it is better to give some examples of groups before defining a group.

Further on Franco also makes a point I keep trying to make to my students: Mathematics is about concepts and not processes. I’ll blog about this at a later date but basically the idea is that pre-university exams in this country give students the idea that maths is about processes. Hence, differentiation is about the process of differentiation, i.e., I give you a function and you use product rule, quotient rule, etc to find the derivative. Of course, differentiation is about something deeper than that.

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