Today I’m working on the first-semester calculus course I am teaching this fall. Changes to the course this fall include a new textbook and the use of Khan Academy. I have selected a new textbook from BVT publishing to keep the costs to the students down. I will be using Khan Academy to give the students a self-directed way to review algebra and pre-calculus material. Many students come into calculus unprepared to deal with the algebraic manipulations needed in calculus and lacking in their understanding of functions and function notation. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time in the semester to address all of the areas in which the students need help, so I hope this will help them to gain the competency they need to be successful.

As I did in the spring semester, I am requiring a significant amount of reading from the students, both of the textbook and of the trade paperback Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouelette. This semester, however, I am having students post their reading responses in a Facebook group, so we’ll see how that experiment goes!

Game Theory and Abstract Algebra

Today I’m working on prepping the first week of group theory and abstract algebra. It’s been interesting work. In game theory we’re going to start with combinatorial game theory and we’ll get to play a lot of games. That is fun and stimulating for the brain, but I also have to decide how much of the subject and methods of combinatorial game theory we should be learning together. What’s the right balance between having interesting experiences and discussions together and learning formal theory?

In abstract algebra, my challenge this semester is to start at a place that the students can reach. Abstract algebra is unlike any other course most of my students have taken, and typically they feel very uncomfortable during the semester. This semester our first week will be spent on set theory with some interesting examples. This isn’t the most exciting place to start the semester, but I hope to give the students enough tools to move forward without undue anxiety.

I’m also going to be doing “minute papers” at the end of each of these weekly classes this semester to get a sense of where the students are and what they need from me and from the class. I’ll also do a more evaluation about three or four weeks in, and I’m going to supplement the traditional course evaluation with an end-of-term evaluation of my own.

Getting ready for the fall

This week I am working on getting ready for my fall classes — creating syllabi to publish online, figuring out pacing and rough content, deciding how I will be grading and structuring classes. It’s fun work and gets me excited about the semester.

I’m teaching a new course this semester in game theory. We’re going to cover both combinatorial game theory and “regular” game theory, and the course is aimed at a beginning level. My biggest struggle right now is figuring out what I can reasonably accomplish in this topic with this audience. We’re going to start the semester with combinatorial game theory, so I hope to get them playing lots of games from the start. About half-way through, we’ll switch to the more traditional game theory topics. In this second part of the course, my aim is to have a lot of interesting discussions rather than to be too technical — I want to get them thinking about rational decision-making in a broad sense and give them an idea of how game theory addresses decision-making and strategies.

I’m also teaching abstract algebra and calculus I this semester, and those courses are in preparation as well. And I still have plenty of time to get distracted in making websites.