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Activities for Class 5


Recap: what have we accomplished so far?

So far we have concentrated on computer technology. We have been learning by the ``total immersion'' method (also known as the ``sink or swim'' method). Some of you may have been shocked on the first day of class when I put you in front of a terminal and told you to write a paper in LaTeX. I hope that now, after perhaps floundering around a bit, you feel able to stay afloat on the computer and even enjoy swimming around in cyberspace.

At this point, you all have a basic knowledge of how to get mathematics onto paper via LaTeX; of how to use Maple for numerical, algebraic, and graphical manipulations; and of how to interact with the World-Wide Web. We will be expanding our knowledge of these topics as the course continues. Today, for example, we will learn how to include graphics in a LaTeX document.

(A side remark: Some of you are devoted to the axiomatic method in mathematics, and you may feel a desire to learn about the formal rules underlying the computer tools. There exists a precise specification for HTML, for example, and both LaTeX and Maple are programming languages having well-defined data types and syntax rules. You can pursue this direction by consulting some of the materials in the list of class resources.)

Future directions

One of the most important benefits you can gain from this course is the confidence that you are able to learn new technologies. It is certain that the tools you are learning this semester will change in the next few years, so you need to be comfortable with the idea of adapting as technology progresses. Maple, for example, is in transition to a new release: Maple V Release 4 is already installed on the PCs in the university computer labs, and the UNIX version of Release 4 should be available next semester (it is now in beta test). LaTeX is currently being overhauled by the LaTeX3 project. The World-Wide Web is changing at such a dramatic rate that no one knows where it is going. (Sun's Java language and Adobe's Acrobat are currently hot, and other new technologies like HyperWave are under development.)

So far, I have been concentrating on the computer because all of you recognize that this technology is important and useful (and fun!?). Now that we have some basic fluency with the computer, I want to add a new element to the course.

Mathematics is to a large extent a social activity. There are hundreds of mathematics meetings every year. Even Andrew Wiles, today's symbol of the cloistered genius alone in the ivory tower thinking deep thoughts, had to come out of seclusion to discuss his proof of Fermat's last theorem in public.

A significant part of mathematical communication takes place face-to-face, whether in a classroom, or at a research seminar, or on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Therefore, we will spend some time discussing and practicing the oral communication of mathematics. Today we will do a warm-up exercise.

Exercise on oral communication

Your task is to take a few minutes to prepare an oral presentation on the subject: ``Who am I and why am I interested in mathematics?'' Then you are going to stand up and give the presentation.

Envision, for example, that during a visit to your home town you have dropped by the high school, and the principal asks you to say a few words to the sophomores. Your presentation should be approximately three minutes long (teenagers have a short attention span), and during the presentation you should at least once write something on the marker board.

Class will continue with instructions about how to include graphics in LaTeX documents. However, that page will not turn on until 19:30, because I want you to pay attention to other people's oral presentations. Which are the best presentations, and why?

Up: Class 5, Math 696
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Previous: Goals

Comments to Harold P. Boas.
Created Sep 24, 1996. Last modified Oct 2, 1996.