Friday, April 30, 2010

EVERY Mathematician's lament....

The first thing to understand is that mathematics is an art. The difference between math and the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such.
So starts a 25 page essay called A Mathematician's Lament, written in 2002 by Peter Lockhart. Certainly, most all mathematicians know this, and it really is this belief that leads us to the obsession with the beauty and general aesthetic quality of mathematics and mathematical research.

Now an expanded version of this essay has been published by Lockhart and Kieth Devlin. I have not read either the original essay or the book yet (I will be shortly). But I am so struck with this early quote and how I often find myself at social situations saying precisely this sort of thing:
"Math is an art. You know, like painting or music...."
Sometimes, some things just speak to you, no? I'll have more when I have read the works.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

AP preparation adequate?

We here at Hopkins give Advanced Placement credits for our calculus courses depending on the score one receives on the AP exams, offered in May of each year. The results come out in July. We give 8 total credits for Calculus I and Calculus II (a full year's worth) for a score on the BC-level exam of 4 or 5 (out of 5), and 4 total credits for Calculus I for a BC-level score of 3, or an AB-level score of 4 or 5 (again, out of 5).

Roughly speaking, the AB-level coincides with Calculus I and BC with Calculus II.

Well.... One of our own, Professor Stephen Wilson, performed a AP score verses grade in the next level course analysis which wound up being quite insightful. It turns out that getting a BC score of 5 is a good indication that the student is prepared to go directly to Calculus III. However, a BC score of 4 may not be. Almost no student who took Calculus III and brought in a BC score of 4 got an A in the class. Likewise, almost no student who brought in an AB score of 4 got an A in Calculus II (the logical next step).

It may be the case that not getting full marks on the AP exams means it is better to step back and re-evaluate the idea that you are really ready for the next level. We will certainly be keeping an eye on this over the next year or so. I thought I would put this out there now.

Advising must be a careful business, no?