Looking Forward

Most projects seem to involve staring quizzically at a computer screen.

As the term gets underway, I’m working on a number of projects trying to address some of the issues that I discussed in the Looking Backwards post…  I was chatting with Thomas Mawora yesterday, listed off all the ongoing projects I could think of, and came up with five.  (Or up to seven, depending on how you count it…)  It’s a lot, but luckily there’s a good deal of overlap, so work in one place often helps another project move forward.  If you’re going to spread yourself thin, you might as well be maximally efficient about it.

  1. Problem Solving Seminar:  Twice a week (once for maths students and once for computer science students) I’ll be running a seminar focused on teaching students to program in Sage for solving math problems.  Basically, we’ll work through a few problems from Project Euler together, getting used to the syntax and basic programming concepts, and then the students will be free to continue with help on whichever problems they like.  I have a bit of experience running sessions like this now, and it will be interesting to see where the Maseno students can get to over the course of the term.
  2. Problem Solving on the Pi: I’ll also be distributing Raspberry Pi’s at a few different locations,  for secondary students to work with.  I’ll be giving a day-long problem-solving workshop for the students, along the lines of the Maseno seminar, and then leaving the device and checking in every couple weeks to see what kind of progress they make.  It will be interesting to find out how much progress students can make on learning to program and problem solve when just left with some resources.  This will help us to discover how much involvement is needed in an ongoing learning process.  We’ll be working with rural students who have just graduated from high school, and have a number of months ahead of them without large commitments as they wait for university.
  3. Online Problem Solving Materials: The big big project was described here, in the previous post.  I’m already learning a bunch of web technologies and will be hacking them together into a framework over the next couple-few months.
  4. Online Algebraic Structures Course Materials: I’m already using some code I’ve been writing to create a set of notes on algebraic structures.  The idea will be to include lots of Sage Interacts and pitch the course at a level accessible to Maseno students. (In particular, I’m storing all of the content in xml, which is then loaded into a page and dynamically rendered by Javascript.)  We’ll also be recording some video content to go with the notes.  Should be interesting by the time it’s done!
  5. WeBWorK in Kenyan Universities:  I’m helping with some exploratory use of WeBWorK at both Maseno and Strathmore Universities.  It’s very nice software for on-line homework which gives ‘the same problem with different numbers’ to all of the students in a class, automatically marks the submissions, and can give the student more than one chance to get a problem right.  I’ve been using it for my linear algebra class for some time; it’s great for drill-type problems, which are necessary in lower-level math courses.  In my own linear algebra classes, I typically assign a combination of webwork and written homework.  Currently, we’re piloting Webwork at Maseno with a Calculus II course with 400 students; we’re hoping half will opt in to try the webwork system instead of the usual continuing assessment.  I’m also assisting a Webwork deployment at Strathmore University; Mary Achieng has been very successfully using it with a class of 150 students for a few weeks now, and is getting other lecturers to try it out.  We’re hoping to get an interesting case-study paper out of the experience, while also improving maths education at both institutions.

So that’s a lot going on!  There will, of course, be plenty of updates as the term goes on….