Month: January 2014

Total 8 Posts

Speaking Mathematically

David Pimm:

We name things for reference, and hopefully for ease of reference, to draw attention to the thing named. But naming also classifies and hence causes us to look at the named thing in particular ways, the chosen symbol stressing some and ignoring other attributes of the named object. Naming something gives us power over it, particularly in algebra, as we can transform and combine expressions involving the unknown — to find out more about it (p. 127).

This is the strongest case for algebra. Your ability to speak, think, and use variable notation makes you powerful — particularly when you interact with computers. But how often do students think of variables in math class and feel powerful? Those experiences aren’t simple to devise.

I read Pimm’s excellent book over the holiday in preparation for my dissertation proposal. I’ve pulled out several pages worth of quotes and supplemented them with a) my analysis and b) some details about my upcoming study. Comments are turned on in the Google doc, so let’s talk about it.

Featured Comments

David Lloyd:

Perhaps using words as the descriptor (“number of songs”) instead of using X (as in “Let x = the number of songs on Dave’s iPod”) would be a step in the right direction? The same level of rigor without the confusion of what X equals.


How often do students name their own variables?

Two People Who Aren’t Pursuing Doctorates

Dina Strasser isn’t and wishes she was:

In June of this year, I turned down the most prestigious scholarship for doctoral work that my local, nationally recognized university had to offer. It was as generous as you could hope for: full tuition, opportunities for stipends and grants. The gracious professors there, and others who helped me with my applications, spent hours of their own time walking me through the process, writing recommendations; they said, to wit, you were born to be a Ph.D. And I knew it, because I had figured that out for myself in third grade. It was the only lifelong dream I have ever had.

Paul Franz was and now isn’t:

So why give up the prospect of a cushy professorship for an uncertain career as an entertainer and artist? Because being a PhD student has made me miserable, and because I would rather be true to myself and take a chance at pursuing my actual passions than pursue a path which I know ends in unhappiness and cynicism.

Paul was a member of my grad program here at Stanford. Dina is the Terrence Malick of ELA bloggers. Both are thoughtful writers and you’ll find lots to learn from about life and work from both their pieces.