What would make a calculus book useful? 2014-04-27

I've been teaching calculus in a textbook-based inverted classroom for three terms now. So far, it's been a smashing success! My students are more engaged than ever, their test scores are up, and they come back to take more courses from me and the department. There's a weak link in the chain, though, that's been bothering me more and more: the textbooks! I've got a shelf in my office with a dozen commercial college calculus textbooks, and they're uniformly terrible for this kind of class.

I'm tired of apologizing for the bizarre choices and unreadable technicality of these books, so I'm writing my own. Here's some of my ideas. (If you're interested in helping out, some preliminary information is at the end.)

Git for academic writing 2014-04-25

If you're reading this blog, I'm sure I don't have to convince you that LaTeX is an awesome way to produce documents. However, as brilliant as LaTeX is at turning words into documents, it alone can't solve all our writing problems. After a few weeks or months of editing a large document like a dissertation, you've no doubt ended up with directories and emails littered with files like agd-thesis.final.version2.withcomments.final.april4.committee.revised.tex. Collaborative editing only exacerbates the pain.

Fortunately, a solution exists to all these problems (and many more you don't even know you have!)—Git. It's surprisingly simple to use, and once you get the hang of it, Git will change your life.

I'm serious.

Lessons from a first-year seminar 2014-02-10

Last term, I had the opportunity to run an interdisciplinary first-year seminar as part of Carleton's A&I program. The course I designed, “The Mathematics of Democracy”, focused on topics at the intersection of mathematics and political theory: social choice (the theory of voting mechanisms), representative apportionment, fair division, and such. Running this course was an incredibly rewarding experience for me, and generally seemed to be a positive one for my students as well.

Here's the nuts and bolts of how I planned the course, what I did during the term, and what I learned about how to make these courses successful (and how not to!).

Inverting the classroom, followup 2013-12-13

In a recent post, I wrote at length about my experiences inverting a section of Calculus I at Carleton College. Now that the term is over and I've had some time to process my experiences and the students' end-of-term evaluations, I want to follow up with some of my thoughts about what went well, what can be improved, and whether I'd do it again.

On interacting with LaTeX 2013-12-12

Warning: this post contains a rant.

Next term, I'll be running a workshop to help Carleton students get started using LaTeX. As part of this, I'm writing up guides for new users, designed to carry students from a state of zero knowledge to their first compiled document. Of course, this requires a functioning LaTeX environment, so I spent some time with the various distributions and editor/environments installed on the lab computers in the department.

After less than half an hour, I gave up and moved the whole project over to WriteLaTeX. The standard desktop LaTeX editing suites are an embarrassing, unusable mess.