The Path of a Mathematician: Puzzles for Starters

| February 8, 2011

Mathematics is more than an occupation, it is a way of life.  The same can be said about many other occupations.  I taught my first course in mathematics at a university.  It was the dreaded calculus.  Calculus is gateway class in every meaning – it is a must-take if one is to specialize in most of the natural sciences; it is the first class in which the notion of infinity is used, a concept that has challenged the intuition of most students.  Over the years, I have taught advanced calculus, linear algebra, logic, college algebra, and complex analysis at the college level.  From the other side, I have also observed many good educators at the top of their games. Teaching mathematics is a science and an art, where one trickles slowly to a stop, the other begins seamlessly.

University level calculus classes are a melting pot of students.  Some are engineering students who need calculus to advance to specialized content courses, some are humanities students who esteem a balanced education, few and far in between are the prodigious early teens who are spotted by their parents or grade school teachers, and vastly more are the throngs of students who do it out of necessity of graduation requirements. Early in my teaching, I noticed maintaining attention in the class is difficult even for an interested student.  One of the methods I used to lengthen their attention span is to start off with a game or puzzler which requires little mathematics at all.  These puzzlers were given to the students a few minutes before the class.  It works miracles!  On average, this simple trick increased their attention for an additional 10 minutes – pure gold for a young instructor.  The puzzlers hold a cognitive spell over the students and one can feel that they are on tentacles for the next 20 – 30 minutes. Here in the TC library, we have tons of great math puzzler books, in print and on videos, for the young and for the young at heart.  Here is a perennial favorite:

Call Number: QA135.6 .S35 2009

Go ahead, give your head a party!