Asaf Karagila
I don't have much choice...

Posts tagged education

In praise of failure

I had a recent back and forth on Math.SE with a user that asked whether or not some exercise he found in some textbook is correct. The OP asked not to provide a proof, but rather to confirm if this statement is at all provable. When I asked why not just try and prove the damn thing, the reply was that if there is a typo or a mistake and the statement is in fact not provable, then they would have wasted their time trying an impossible task.

Well. Actually no. When I was a dewy eyed freshman, I had taken all my classes with 300 students from computer science and software engineering (Ben-Gurion University has changed that since then). Our discrete mathematics professor was someone who was renowned as somewhat careless when it comes to details in questions and stuff like this (my older brother took calculus with the same professor about ten years before, one day he didn't show up to class, when my brother and two others went to see if he is at his office, he was surprised to find out that today is Tuesday). Continue reading...

Some thoughts about teaching introductory courses in set theory

Dianna Crown, the physics woman on YouTube, has posted a video where she is interviewed by her editor about why and how she found herself majoring in physics in MIT.

Here is the video: Continue reading...

Dangerous knowledge in the Information Age

Back in the days of yore, if one wanted to know mathematics, one would have to go to the university and take a course; or hire a tutor; or go to the library and open a book and learn on their own.

And that was fine. All three options are roughly equivalent, in the sense that they present you the material in a very structured way (or they at least intend to). You don't reach the definition of \(\aleph_0\) because you defined what is equipotency and cardinality. You don't reach the definition of a derivative before you have some semblance of notion of continuity. Knowledge was built in a very structural way. Sometimes you use crutches (e.g. some naive understanding of the natural numbers before you formally introduce them later on as finite ordinals), but for the most part there is a method to the madness. Continue reading...

Some thoughts about teaching advanced set theory

I've been given the chance to teach the course in axiomatic set theory in Jerusalem this semester. Today I gave my first lecture as a teacher. It went fine, I even covered more than I expected to, which is good, I guess. I am also preparing lecture notes, which I will probably post here when the semester ends. These predicated on some rudimentary understanding in logic and basic set theory, so there might be holes there to people unfamiliar with the basic course (at least the one that I gave with Azriel Levy for the past three years).

Yesterday, however, I spent most of my day thinking about how we---as a collective of set theorists---teach axiomatic set theory. About that usual course: axioms, ordinals, induction, well-founded sets, reflection, \(V=L\) and the consistency of \(\GCH\) and \(\AC\), some basic combinatorics (clubs, Fodor's lemma, maybe Solovay or even Silver's theorem). Up to some rudimentary permutation. Continue reading...

In praise of some history

Teaching pure mathematics is not a trivial thing. You have to overcome the several barriers that were constructed by the K12 education that mathematics is a bunch of "fit this problem into that mold".

I recently had a chat with James Cummings about teaching. He said something that I knew long before, that being a good teacher requires a bit of theatricality. My best teacher from undergrad, Uri Onn, had told me when I started teaching, that being a good teacher is the same as being a good storyteller: you need to be able and mesmerize your audience and keep them on the edge of their seats, wanting more. Continue reading...

Quick update from Norwich

It's been a while, quite a while, since I last posted anything. Even a blurb.

I'm visiting David Asperó in Norwich at the moment, and on Sunday, the 12th, I will return home. It seems that the pattern is that you work most of the day, then head for a few drinks and dinner. Mathematics is eligible for the first two beers, philosophy of mathematics for the next two, and mathematical education for the fifth beer. Then it's probably a good idea to stop. Also it is usually last call, so you kinda have to stop. Continue reading...

Vsauce on cardinals and ordinals

To the readers of my blog, it should come as no surprise that I have a lot of appreciation to what Michael Stevens is doing in Vsauce. In the past Michael, who is not a mathematician, created an excellent video about the Banach-Tarski paradox, as well another one on supertasks. And now he tackled infinite cardinals and ordinals.

You can find the video here: Continue reading...

Don't worry about it

In a recent Math.SE question about the foundations of category theory without set theory, someone made a claim that \(\ZF\) makes it hard to learn mathematics, because in \(\ZF\) the questions "is \(\RR\subseteq\pi\)?" and "is \(\RR\in\pi\)?" can be phrased. They continued to argue that there are questions like whether or not hom-sets are disjoint or not, which are hard to explain to people who are "drunk on ZF's kool-aid".

So I raised a question in the comment, and got replies from two other people who kept repeating the age old silly arguments of what are the elements of \(\RR\times\RR\) or what are these or that elements. And supposedly the correct pedagogical answer is "It does not matter what are the elements of \(\RR\times\RR\)." With that I strongly agree, and when I taught my students about ordered pairs on the very first class of the semester, I made it very clear that there are other ways to define ordered pairs and that we only do that because we want to show that there is at least one way in which ordered pairs can be realized as sets; but ultimately we couldn't care less about what way they encode ordered pairs into sets, as long it is a "legal" way. Continue reading...

The Thing Explainer Challenge

Randall Munroe of the xkcd fame has a new book coming up where he explains various concepts using a small repository of "simple" words (this is based on this xkcd comic). He recently posted this blog post, where he reveals a word checker program that he wrote to help him with the task.

So I figured, why not use this for explaining mathematical theorems. Continue reading...

How to solve your problems

Anyone who peruses mathematical Q&A sites, or had students come to office hours or send questions via other means (email, designated forums, carrier pigeons, or written on a note tied to a brick tossed into your office) knows the following statement: "I don't know where to begin", or at least one of its variants.

Richard Feynman, who was this awesome guy who did a lot of cool things (and also some physics (but I won't hold it against him today)), has a famous three-steps algorithm for solving any problem.

  1. Write the problem down.
  2. Think. Real. Hard.
  3. Write the solution down.
Continue reading...