M 360M/M396C: MATHEMATICS AS PROBLEM SOLVING
Unique numbers: 58665/59080
Instructor: Dr. M. Smith
Contact information: Office: RLM 10.136
Phone: 471-6142 (direct), 471-7711(via secretary)
Home page: http://www.ma.utexas.edu/users/mks/
Office hours: Office hours for the rest of the first week of
Office hours for the second week of classes and regular office hours will
be announced in class and on my web page when they are set. I will need
to cancel office hours now and then to accommodate meetings, oral exams,
etc. I will try to give you several days advance notice when this happens.
- Friday, August 27,
11 - 12 am
Class web page: http://www.ma.utexas.edu/users/mks/360M04/M360M04home.html
Links related to the course will be added here from
time to time.
Reading Assignments: Readings will be assigned from the Principles
and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers
of Mathematics, 2000. Copies should be available at local bookstores.
Sections which will be assigned as reading will also be placed on UT e-reserves.
You will be given the e-reserves password for this course in class. Be
sure not to give the password out to anyone who is not enrolled in the
We will be reading most of the sections on problem
solving, reasoning, communication, representation, and connections. Some
of you may have read some of these portions before in other classes. If
this is the case, be sure to read them again, focusing on any points indicated
for attention in the assignment, and looking for points you may have overlooked,
misunderstood, or not fully understood in previous reading. I find that
each time I reread part of the Principles and Standards, I find
something new that I overlooked before.
1. To improve your mathematical problem solving
ability. (By "problem solving," I mean "figuring out" rather than following
procedures that someone else teaches you.) This should help you in other
courses you take, especially proof courses, as well as in other ways.
2. To improve your abilities in mathematical
communication (including writing, talking, and listening).
3. To deepen your understanding of some basic mathematical
4. To enrich your understanding of what mathematics
is, especially as this is relevant to teaching mathematics.
5. To develop the habit of reflection on
6. To practice giving and receiving feedback.
1. These are "You can lead a horse to water …" type objectives. You
have to do your part ("drink") by working hard at achieving the course goals.
There is no magic!
2. This is a course in mathematics for prospective teachers. It is
not a course on teaching mathematics, although what we do in the course
is very important in preparing you to teach mathematics for understanding.
If you have questions about things like classroom management, the instructors
of your education courses or the UTeach math master teachers (Pamela Powell
and Mark Daniels) are the best people to ask.
- As with any University course, you are expected to spend at least
twice as much time outside of class as in class working on the course
Work outside of class will include working on problems, writing up solutions,
reading from the text and possibly from other sources, and keeping
a journal. (See below for more details on the journal.)
- In-class activities will include some group activities, but primarily
presentation of problem solutions; discussion of problems, readings, and
exercises; and occasional short lectures.
What I expect of you: Both in-class and out-of-class
work are important for this course. In particular, I expect you to:
- Attend class regularly.
- Participate in class activities by presenting exercises when
asked, volunteering to present solutions to problems, listening carefully
to other students' presentations of solutions, asking questions and offering
constructive feedback on other students' presentations, responding constructively
to other students' critiques of your presentations, contributing constructively
to class discussion, participating constructively in group activities, and
treating your classmates in a respectful manner that contributes to everyone's
- Do assigned reading and related assignments carefully and reflectively
rather than superficially.
- Manage your time working on problems so that you can work on
problems, set them aside, come back to them, write up your solutions, and
revise your write-ups.
- Practice the problem solving techniques we discuss in class,
to incorporate them in your problem solving habits.
- Learn from other students' methods and from feedback offered
by other students or me, whether orally or in writing.
- Keep your journal as outlined below, and use it in a way that
best helps your individual learning needs and opportunities
- Take responsibility for maintaining a balance of challenge and
support that optimizes your learning in this course. (More on this below.)
Policy on Collaboration: Since unauthorized collaboration is
considered academic dishonesty, it is important that you know what kinds
of collaboration are and are not authorized in this class.
1. The following activities are not only authorized but encouraged:
- Working on a problem with someone when neither of you has yet
solved the problem
- Asking someone for a small hint if you have given a problem
a serious try and are stuck.
- Giving a student who asks for help the smallest hint
that you possibly can.
- Asking someone to listen to and critique your ideas on a problem.
- Listening to a student's ideas on a problem and critiquing them
without giving away the solution.
- Asking another person to read and critique your write-up of
- Reading and critiquing another student's write-up of a problem,
pointing out errors but not correcting them.
2. Unauthorized collaboration includes:
- Asking someone to show you the solution to a problem that hasn't
been handed in or discussed in class yet.
- Showing a student in the class a solution to a problem they
have not yet solved and that hasn't been handed in or discussed in class
- Copying, either word for word or by rewording, a solution that
you have not played a significant part in obtaining. This includes a solution
found in a book, a solution obtained by a student or group of students
in this class, a solution originating in this class in a previous year,
or any other source.
- Writing up a solution together with someone else, whether or
not you have worked out the solution together.
Prerequisite mathematics: Most of the problems assigned in
this course involve only pre-calculus mathematical concepts. You will
be given a list (What You May Assume) of these. If you think of
using something not on this list in solving a problem, check with me
first to see whether it is acceptable. In some cases, I might say yes
and add it to the list. In other cases, I might say you can use it only
if you include a proof of it in your solution.
If you are rusty on the prerequisite material,
you will be responsible for doing any necessary review. You may find the
handout "What You May Assume" to be adequate for review. If not, here are
some suggestions on library sources: the QA 551 shelf in the PMA library
has several precalculus textbooks; the Textbook Collection in the PCL stacks
is probably the best place to look for geometry texts. Also bear in
mind that you may gain a better understanding of concepts in the process
of using them to solve problems; so don't think you need to understand everything
completely before you start the class.
Portfolio: You are expected to keep and occasionally review a
portfolio of your work related to this class (including problems solved,
both turned in and not, graded exams, and any other evidence of your problem
solving activities.) You will not be expected to turn in a portfolio;
its purpose is only to be sure you have kept all your materials in
an organized manner so that you can review them when requested.
Exams: There will be two midsemester exams (during regular
class time) and a final exam (Wednesday, December 8, 9 AM - 12 noon)
Grading: You will be given grading rubrics for written homework
and exams. These will change as the semester progresses, based on what
we have done so far in the course. Course grading will be holistic,
based on all relevant information I have about you: performance in class discussion
and problem solving, homework turned in, exams, journal, and any other information
I have pertaining to your work in this class and its effect outside this
class. I will try to give you the highest grade I can justify on the basis
of available evidence. The following examples should give you some idea of
my standards for course grades:
Good or better quality on all of homework, exams,
journal, and class participation, plus excellent quality on at least one
of homework, exams, journal: A
At least good quality on at least three of homework,
exams, journal, and class participation: B.
At least adequate quality on at least three of
homework, exams, journal, and class participation: C
(See the second bullet in the section "What I expect of you"
above for what constitutes good class participation.)
Journal: As part of your coursework for this class, you are
required to keep a class-related journal. The journal will serve several
You are expected to write in your journal at least twice a week
(three times for M396C students), with most entries being at least one handwritten,
standard sized page (or the equivalent word processed).
- Encouraging you to reflect on your problem solving behavior and
other topics related to mathematics and teaching mathematics for understanding
- Giving you practice writing about mathematics
- Providing feedback to me about your progress in the course
- Providing another means for me to give feedback to you.
I will collect, read, and make comments on your journal every two
or three weeks. You will not receive a grade on your journal, but are
required to maintain it. Your journal will be part of the information I
consider in determining your course grade.
Journal format: Please use the following format to facilitate
collecting and reading journals:
- Use a double-pocket folder for your journal.
- Put new (unread) entries in the right hand pocket.
- Put old entries (those already read) in the left hand pocket, so
that I can refer to them as needed in reading.
- After the first time your journal has been handed in, be sure to
include the sheet of comments I have added to it, so that I can refer to
it as needed in reading new entries.
- Date each entry and keep them in chronological order.
- Do not include anything else in your journal folder.
Journal topics: Sometimes I will ask you (either the whole class
or individually) to write on a specific topic, but usually the choice will
be up to you. Possibilities include:
Don't limit yourself to just one of these topics, however. Anything
related to doing and learning mathematics and teaching mathematics for
understanding is appropriate.
- Your reactions (thoughts, and feelings if you wish) to topics
in the readings or discussed in class.
- Analysis of how you go about solving problems (e.g., what strategies
you most often use), and how you might do so better.
- Insights you have had into various mathematical concepts.
- Comparing and contrasting how you and other students go about
- Comparing and contrasting different solutions to the same problem.
- How you have used ideas discussed in this class in other classes
or other situations in your life, or how these relate to what we've discussed
in class. (Students who have an extended field experience or are student
teaching this semester may have lots of comments related to those experiences.)
- How the ideas in this class might influence your own teaching.
- How you might use what you learned in solving one problem in
- Describing problems you have made up, and why, when, and how
they might be good teaching/learning problems.
- Asking questions about concepts you don't yet understand fully.
- Requests for specific kinds of feedback.
- Asking questions about things in this class whose purpose you
- Suggestions on how to improve this class.
- Discussion of what types of problems you like best, and why.
- Comments on your progress in any of the areas of the course
- Information that might help me evaluate your performance in
You should not use your journal to record what went on in class
(except brief accounts to introduce your own reactions to this.) You are
expected to write in your journal outside class. If you wish to take class
notes, you should keep these in a separate notebook or folder.
Additional Information for M396C Students
LETTER TO STUDENTS
Dear 360M/396C student,
Welcome to M360M/396C. I hope this class will be
rewarding for you.
As a mathematics teacher, you will share in the
responsibility of helping to prepare future generations to solve many
complex problems facing society. Increasingly, these problems are
at least partly technical ones, often involving mathematics, so your impact
as a mathematics teacher will be especially important. Many problems that
do not involve mathematics can also benefit from the types of "higher
order" thinking skills that go into solving challenging, non-routine mathematical
problems, so what you teach in math classes can benefit students and society
in ways beyond just mathematics. However, many of you have been shortchanged
in your own precollege math classes by not having many opportunities to
work on these types of challenging, non-routine mathematical problems. This
course will give you an opportunity to work on such problems, as well as
to learn about (and practice) some of the thinking skills involved in them
and many other problem solving.
I believe that learning best takes place when the
learner has an appropriate balance of challenge and support. I have tried
to design this course so that there are ample opportunities for both. However,
since what is challenge and what is support varies from student to student,
you will need to take responsibility for achieving a balance that is appropriate
Most students find most of the problems in this
course challenging. If you do not, I expect you to take responsibility
for pursuing other aspects of the course in a manner that is challenging
to you. Possibilities include seeing how many ways you can solve each problem,
polishing your mathematical writing, focusing on observing other students'
problem solving efforts and how this observation can help you become a better
teacher, trying to make your problem solving more efficient, learning to
apply problem solving techniques discussed in this course to a course that
is more challenging for you, reading more of the NCTM Principles and
Standards carefully and thoughtfully, polishing your oral presentation
skills, learning to take criticism more constructively, learning to work
better in groups, or overcoming a fear of speaking in front of your peers.
By all means, report on your efforts in your journal.
If, like many students, you find the problems very
challenging, you will need to make an effort to develop and utilize the
supports available. No single prescription works for everyone, since what
is supportive for one individual may in fact be challenging for another
(Example: Some students find feedback supportive, but others find it challenging),
but possibilities include:
In fact, the above suggestions are good ideas for
- Establishing a good relationship with one or more students
in the class with whom you can work on problems (Two heads are better
than one!) or from whom you can obtain constructive emotional support.
(Of course, you should be willing to expect to give as well as take in
any such relationship.)
- Managing your time carefully so that you don't find yourself
too rushed to set a problem aside and come back to it later.
- Making an extra effort to learn to use the problem solving
techniques discussed in class
- Using your journal to help work through your struggles.
- Practicing constructive self-talk. (Example: If you start
thinking that you are "dumb" because you didn't see on your own something
that seems obvious after someone else explained it, remind yourself that
that happens to everyone, including very smart people.)
- Making maximum use of your own and others' mistakes as
You will undoubtedly find the course frustrating
at times; it is in the nature of problem solving to feel frustrated at
least sometimes. Don't let the inevitable frustration stop you. Learning
to deal with it is an important part of learning to solve problems.
I look forward to seeing you learn and grow mathematically
in this class, and hope that it will help you help your own future students
learn and grow mathematically.
Martha K. Smith
Professor of Mathematics