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Questions tagged [undergraduate-education]

For questions about teaching students at the undergraduate (university) level.

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61 votes
4 answers
6k views

Is it worth grading calculus homework?

I am a young math educator. I've TAed four semesters of calculus for various instructors. Some instructors have required me to grade selected problems in homework sets. Another required me simply to ...
abnry's user avatar
  • 852
27 votes
9 answers
3k views

Teaching students to find and correct their own errors

Many students have a fairly good grasp of the topics they are learning but fall down because they miss fatal errors in their work. Some don't check for errors at all, while many simply can't find them....
DavidButlerUofA's user avatar
20 votes
3 answers
1k views

Good problems that uncover difficult points in a theory

There is a great quote of Yitz Herstein: The value of a problem is not so much coming up with the answer as in the ideas and attempted ideas it forces on the would-be solver." A number of such ...
Jon Bannon's user avatar
  • 6,173
19 votes
1 answer
2k views

How much time to spend on a single question?

When I was self-studying as an undergraduate, I would spend up to two weeks working on a single problem or trying to understand a proof in Rudin's Principles of Mathematical Analysis. I realize now ...
Student's user avatar
  • 293
52 votes
15 answers
13k views

How can we help students learn how to read their textbook?

In most secondary and early undergraduate courses, students purchase expensive and carefully-written textbooks. These textbooks contain, roughly, three things: Exercises and Answers Reference ...
Chris Cunningham's user avatar
45 votes
18 answers
3k views

How to teach logical implication?

One of the challenges of undergraduate teaching is logical implication. The case by case definition, in particular, is quite disturbing for most students, that have trouble accepting "false implies ...
Benoît Kloeckner's user avatar
87 votes
21 answers
26k views

Why are induction proofs so challenging for students?

This forum already has many good, simple examples of induction proofs, a great resource. As I am soon to teach induction for the $n^\textrm{th}$ time—this time to some perhaps under-prepared ...
Joseph O'Rourke's user avatar
74 votes
17 answers
10k views

How shall we teach math online?

Many universities, including mine, are now requiring we teach our courses online because corona. How shall we do this? Let’s brainstorm here. Some challenges: My school provides limited online ...
Stephen Herschkorn's user avatar
15 votes
4 answers
1k views

When should I say "nothing is as it seems"?

"Intuition" is the best friend and worse enemy of mathematicians! Sometimes using intuitive arguments could be very helpful to understand the nature of a phenomenon. Many of the deepest true ...
user avatar
41 votes
4 answers
5k views

Rings before groups in abstract algebra?

The default approach to teaching abstract algebra seems to be groups first, then rings. However, occasionally a textbook pops up (e.g. Childs' A Concrete Introduction to Higher Algebra, Hodge et al's ...
J W's user avatar
  • 4,733
22 votes
4 answers
1k views

How can I choose a free calculus textbook?

As I have been recently informed, it is a good idea to consider free calculus textbooks for college and university courses. However, this feels risky to me, because: I don't know anyone who is using ...
Chris Cunningham's user avatar
46 votes
16 answers
32k views

How is calculus helpful for biology majors?

It's common for majors in biology to take calculus courses, and many calculus textbooks (and calculus professors) try to cater to these students by including applications to biology. My question is, ...
Jim Belk's user avatar
  • 8,279
32 votes
20 answers
6k views

How to explain that a negative number multiplied by a negative number is a positive number, and that $-(-x)=x$?

Actually, there is no algebraic problem to show that $-(-x) = x$. This proof can be build upon the concept of the addition of the opposite like this: $- x + x = - x + [- ( - x) ]$, and thus by ...
Abdallah Abusharekh's user avatar
19 votes
7 answers
7k views

Learn university maths or train for high school competitions: which is better?

I sometimes see people arguing against concentrating too many resources in high school maths competition (such as IMO) training. Their reasons they give are usually the following: Competitions are a ...
Ma Joad's user avatar
  • 1,673
9 votes
3 answers
588 views

How many problems do we have to do as undergraduate mathematicians in order to learn a subject?

I'm wondering how many problems are needed in order to learn a subject, let's say Calculus of Several Variables. We know that the professors often assign us a list of problems to solve as homework, ...
HeMan's user avatar
  • 251
54 votes
13 answers
12k views

How do I motivate my students to go to office hours?

I'm currently TAing a Linear Algebra class where a significant portion of the class is struggling, oftentimes getting marked down on homeworks or tests because they misunderstand some concept (rather ...
user avatar
43 votes
15 answers
21k views

Why do we teach complex numbers?

In algebra II, USA, we teach our students complex numbers. However, after algebra II, they never use complex numbers until pretty much complex analysis. The whole point of teaching them complex ...
Simply Beautiful Art's user avatar
39 votes
14 answers
7k views

How to make Calculus II seem motivated, interesting, and useful?

I am due to teach Calculus II in the fall at an American state university. Our calculus sequence is somewhat slow, due to the fact that many of our students come with limited backgrounds. Most of our ...
Frank Thorne's user avatar
  • 2,249
33 votes
6 answers
3k views

What are the best practices for giving online tests?

Many of us our coming off our first semester of required-online classes; and at some of our institutions we are preparing for what is most likely a required-online semester in the fall. (That is: The ...
Daniel R. Collins's user avatar
31 votes
6 answers
3k views

What are non-math majors supposed to get out of an undergraduate calculus class?

When I teach a course for math majors (an analysis course out of Rudin, say), I have a more or less clear idea of what the students should take away from the course, having been in their shoes some 15 ...
user5249's user avatar
  • 311
23 votes
6 answers
2k views

Is there a good way to explain determinants in an elementary linear algebra class?

Many colleges offer an an elementary linear algebra class for sophomore math, science, and economics majors. Such a class typically covers a chapter on determinants, including the following aspects: ...
Jim Belk's user avatar
  • 8,279
23 votes
5 answers
2k views

Why are the contents of contest maths so different from contents of degree-level maths?

I wonder why topics examined in high school math contests are so different from the maths learned by those who are seriously studying a math major at a university. Firstly, contests like IMO, ARML, ...
Ma Joad's user avatar
  • 1,673
23 votes
9 answers
1k views

Is it good to have solutions of homework published?

At a course at the university, the students have to do homeworks every week which will be graded and discussed in exercise groups. Is it a good idea to put "official" solutions of the homework on ...
Markus Klein's user avatar
  • 9,438
23 votes
9 answers
3k views

The definition of natural log and e

I'm asking this question from the point of view of an introductory non-rigorous calculus instructor. Calculus textbooks have different approaches about how to define $e$ and $\ln$. For example, my ...
Chris Cunningham's user avatar
23 votes
8 answers
4k views

What is a good reason to change calculus texts?

Our college is switching to an Early Transcendentals calculus text, and this seems like a good time to consider which text we are using in general. Larson, Stewart, Thomas, Briggs/Cochran, etc are all ...
Chris Cunningham's user avatar
20 votes
8 answers
1k views

What are some good mathematical applications to present in an abstract algebra course?

One of the main difficulties for a student learning abstract algebra is understanding the motivations behind concepts like groups, normal subgroups, rings , ideals etc. Also, many have difficulty ...
user774025's user avatar
20 votes
7 answers
2k views

How can I motivate the formal definition of continuity?

In order to teach continuity of real valued functions $f:D\to\mathbb R$ one may start with the (in some sense wrong) intuition $f$ is continuous when its graph can be drawn without lifting the pen. ...
Stephan Kulla's user avatar
19 votes
2 answers
863 views

Emphasizing the discrete in early undergraduate education?

From time to time, I have come across course ideas emphasizing the discrete over the continuous, such as Peter Saveliev's Fantasy Math curriculum (update: see also his material on discrete calculus) ...
J W's user avatar
  • 4,733
16 votes
5 answers
1k views

Is Peer Instruction suited to mathematics classroom?

Peer Instruction is a method developed by Eric Mazur in Harvard, designed with a student-centered approach in mind. In a nutshell, the core of the method is that when presented with a problem, ...
Mark Fantini's user avatar
  • 3,040
4 votes
6 answers
653 views

Applications of abstract algebra outside of mathematics and suitable textbook

The question What are some good mathematical applications to present in an abstract algebra course? asks about mathematical applications of abstract algebra. What are some applications of abstract ...
J W's user avatar
  • 4,733
100 votes
20 answers
19k views

Unique candidate that fails

In the comments to David Speyer's answer here, he points out that "the distinction between 'if there is a formula, it is this one' and 'this formula works' is subtle." Does anyone have any simple, ...
Steven Gubkin's user avatar
76 votes
20 answers
19k views

Impressive common misleading interpretations in statistics to make students aware of

Statistics are used everywhere; politicians, companies, etc. argue with the help of statistics. Since calculations are needed for the interpretation of statistics, such things should be taught in ...
Markus Klein's user avatar
  • 9,438
37 votes
13 answers
3k views

Examples why university education is important for future high school teachers

At my university, the students in math are mixed up (1/3-1/2 are bachelor/master students, the rest are future high school teachers). A problem arising very often is the discussion dramatically ...
Markus Klein's user avatar
  • 9,438
37 votes
4 answers
3k views

Taxonomy of bad proofs

I am interested in finding examples of poorly written proofs that exemplify the types of mistakes made by undergraduate students in their first year or two of writing proofs. I am interested both in ...
Patrick Lutz's user avatar
35 votes
11 answers
2k views

Epsilons and deltas in a first calculus course

In a freshman calculus course for non-majors; Is it to the benefit of the students to include discussion of epsilons and deltas? To what extent, if any, should they be used? For example, just to ...
Gamma Function's user avatar
34 votes
7 answers
6k views

What to do when you get "the empty stare"?

First, I am not a professor, but I was a teaching assistent for a couple of courses. One time I took over a few sections for a friend who was also a TA. The course was 'math for chemists' (I think it ...
Ruben's user avatar
  • 945
33 votes
3 answers
1k views

What is the evidence about the effectiveness of remediation in math?

At many colleges in the United States, incoming students are required to take placement tests in basic skills such as math and reading. Those who score below a cut-off are required to take remedial ...
user avatar
32 votes
6 answers
3k views

Allowing nonstandard mathematical language and/or notation

How important is enforcing standard mathematical language and/or notation? Today, I was questioned by a writing instructor as to how vital it is to correct students when they explain something using ...
Nick C's user avatar
  • 9,639
31 votes
8 answers
3k views

How to react to students saying that they are allergic to applied mathematics?

I'm working in the field of applied mathematics (optimization and numerics) and I meet a lot of students saying that they are allergic to applied mathematics or that they hate it or some quotes like "...
Markus Klein's user avatar
  • 9,438
31 votes
7 answers
2k views

Mathematical education by country

Depending on the university, there are always slight differences in the syllabus and the structure of the standard material undergraduate students learn. But I also noticed that undergraduate ...
k.stm's user avatar
  • 419
30 votes
7 answers
1k views

When $-x$ is positive

This recent question reminded me of a question: this year several students expressed concern about the expression $\sqrt{-x}$, on the grounds that it must be undefined because $-x$ is a negative ...
Henry Towsner's user avatar
30 votes
7 answers
2k views

Good definition for introducing real numbers?

In the first lectures about calculus/analysis, you should introduce real numbers. Let's assume students know that rational numbers are. What are the advantages or disadvantages in the different "...
Markus Klein's user avatar
  • 9,438
29 votes
4 answers
4k views

Students use WolframAlpha. Can we change calculus instruction to exploit it while discouraging 'cheating'?

(This question developed from a comment in the thread "Revisiting the chain rule".) Students know that WolframAlpha and other software/computational resources exist and will make use of them as they ...
Brendan W. Sullivan's user avatar
24 votes
4 answers
3k views

How to Teach Adults Elementary Concepts

I've recently taken on the task of helping out in my school's Math Center. The courses I assist in range from Algebra to Calculus. While I'm younger (in my 20's), most of the students at the school ...
charliefox2's user avatar
24 votes
2 answers
1k views

Should geometric algebra be presented early on in undergraduate education?

The Cambridge University GA Research Group’s website along with the “Geometric Calculus R & D Home Page” should serve as a good introductions to geometric algebra, along with the Wikipedia ...
user avatar
24 votes
6 answers
2k views

What is the proper way to ask a "find the domain" question?

A function is not really a function unless it's defined everywhere on its domain. So consider these three questions: Let $f: \mathbb{R} \rightarrow \mathbb{R}$ be the square root function $f(x) = \...
Paul Castle's user avatar
23 votes
7 answers
7k views

Is the reciprocal function continuous?

I'm curious the views of those who teach calculus. As you know the continuity of a function at a point is defined in terms of the limit in the typical course. I'd like to ask a pair of questions: ...
James S. Cook's user avatar
22 votes
2 answers
752 views

Exam philosophy

I'm curious if anyone knows of any books, studies, or other resources on the philosophy of creating and grading mathematics exams. After working as a graduate TA for 4 years and dealing with a wide ...
icurays1's user avatar
  • 485
22 votes
3 answers
1k views

Which universities teach true infinitesimal calculus?

My colleague and I are currently teaching "true infinitesimal calculus" (TIC), in the sense of calculus with infinitesimals, to a class of about 120 freshmen at our university, based on the book by ...
Mikhail Katz's user avatar
  • 2,240
22 votes
3 answers
696 views

Polymorphic functions in vector calculus

While teaching multi-variable calculus for the first time in a while, I came across a tricky notational point in our textbook (Thomas' calculus - I'm not sure how widespread this notation is). When $\...
Henry Towsner's user avatar