There are few things that bruise your professional ego more than no one showing up to an event you painstakingly and excitedly planned. In my case, it all came crashing down in early October. I had been planning to start a local Math Circle since February, and even got a generous grant from the Harward Center here at Bates to do it. I had connected with local teachers, advertised in a couple of school events, and sent out numerous email announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. On the day of our first meeting, our invited speaker, four student helpers, myself, and ONE student from the Lewiston High School showed up. I canceled the event (fortunately, the student’s parents were still nearby), and went home to mope and despair about how terrible I am at everything. After an appropriate mourning period and lots of comfort food (basically the rest of that weekend), I decided to pick myself up and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I know you are all worried now, but don’t be, this story has a happy ending.
Mike Starbird (standing) teaches Bates faculty an important lesson.
Last week, the Bates Math Department hosted our annual Sampson lecture. I have written about this event previously, when my collaborator Leila Schneps visited this past Winter. I was fortunate to also get to invite this academic year’s lecturer: good friend, colleague, role model, and all-around great guy Michael Starbird.
A few days ago, I was grading a Calculus quiz and came across the following statement: “the function is discontinuous at x=3 because there is an asmatope (sic)”. I thought it was hilarious, and I still marked it as correct. The point is, from looking at a graph the student was able to identify where the function was discontinuous and why, they just couldn’t remember the exact word for it. After some thought, I realized how many of the names we give mathematical objects are unlinked from their meaning when you first start learning them (and I mean, asmatope is pretty darn close to asymptote, right?). This has made me be more intentional and direct about why things are named the way they are. Sometimes, though, the name comes from ancient Greek, Latin, is a German word, and it might be harder for the students to associate with a particular meaning. In the end, you learn these things, but some amusement is to be had (sometimes by all of us in the classroom). Sometimes, they come up with clever ways of using these names, which is also quite amusing. Here are some of my favorites.