MAT 411 introduces students to the basic ideas, definitions, examples, theorems and proof techniques of abstract algebra.
Aside from the obvious goal of wanting you to learn how to write rigorous mathematical proofs, one of my principle ambitions is to make you independent of me. Nothing else that I teach you will be half so valuable or powerful as the ability to reach conclusions by reasoning logically from first principles and being able to justify those conclusions in clear, persuasive language (either oral or written). Furthermore, I want you to experience the unmistakable feeling that comes when one really understands something thoroughly. Much “classroom knowledge” is fairly superﬁcial, and students often find it hard to judge their own level of understanding. For many of us, the only way we know whether we are “getting it” comes from the grade we make on an exam. I want you to become less reliant on such externals. When you can distinguish between really knowing something and merely knowing about something, you will be on your way to becoming an independent learner. Lastly, it is my sincere hope that all of us (myself included) will improve our oral and written communications skills.
We will make limited use of BbLearn this semester, which is Northern Arizona University’s default learning management system (LMS). Most course content (e.g., syllabus, course notes, homework, etc.) will be housed here on our course webpage that lives outside of BbLearn. I suggest you bookmark this page. The only thing I will use BbLearn for is to communicate grades.
We will not use a textbook this semester, but rather a task-sequence adopted for IBL. The task-sequence that we are using was written by me. Any errors in the notes are no one’s fault but my own. In this vein, if you think you see an error, please inform me, so that it can be remedied. The course notes are available here.
I will not be covering every detail of the notes and the only way to achieve a sufficient understanding of the material is to be digesting the reading in a meaningful way. You should be seeking clarification about the content of the notes whenever necessary by asking questions. Here’s one of my favorite quotes about reading mathematics.
Don’t just read it; fight it! Ask your own questions, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate cases? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?
This is not a lecture-oriented class or one in which mimicking prefabricated examples will lead you to success. You will be expected to work actively to construct your own understanding of the topics at hand, with the readily available help of me and your classmates. Many of the concepts you learn and problems you work will be new to you and ask you to stretch your thinking. You will experience frustration and failure before you experience understanding. This is part of the normal learning process. If you are doing things well, you should be confused at different points in the semester. The material is too rich for a human being to completely understand it immediately. Your viability as a professional in the modern workforce depends on your ability to embrace this learning process and make it work for you.
In order to promote a more active participation in your learning, we will incorporate ideas from an educational philosophy called inquiry-based learning (IBL). Loosely speaking, IBL is a student-centered method of teaching mathematics that engages students in sense-making activities. Students are given tasks requiring them to solve problems, conjecture, experiment, explore, create, and communicate. Rather than showing facts or a clear, smooth path to a solution, the instructor guides and mentors students via well-crafted problems through an adventure in mathematical discovery. Effective IBL courses encourage deep engagement in rich mathematical activities and provide opportunities to collaborate with peers (either through class presentations or group-oriented work).
Perhaps this is sufficiently vague, but I believe that there are two essential elements to IBL. Students should as much as possible be responsible for:
If you want to learn more about IBL, read my blog post titled What the Heck is IBL?
Much of the course will be devoted to students presenting their proposed solutions/proofs on the board and a significant portion of your grade will be determined by how much mathematics you produce. I use the word “produce” because I believe that the best way to learn mathematics is by doing mathematics. Someone cannot master a musical instrument or a martial art by simply watching, and in a similar fashion, you cannot master mathematics by simply watching; you must do mathematics!
Furthermore, it is important to understand that solving genuine problems is difficult and takes time. You shouldn’t expect to complete each problem in 10 minutes or less. Sometimes, you might have to stare at the problem for an hour before even understanding how to get started. In fact, solving difficult problems can be a lot like the clip from the Big Bang Theory located here.
In this course, everyone will be required to
As the semester progresses, it should become clear to you what the expectations are. This will be new to many of you and there may be some growing pains associated with it.
You are allowed and encouraged to work together on homework. However, each student is expected to turn in their own work. In general, late homework will not be accepted. However, you are allowed to turn in three late homework assignments with no questions asked. Unless you have made arrangements in advance with me, homework turned in after class will be considered late. When doing your homework, I encourage you to use the Elements of Style for Proofs (see Appendix B of the course notes as a reference. Your overall homework grade will be worth 20% of your final grade.
On each homework assignment, please write (i) your name, (ii) name of course, and (iii) Daily/Weekly Homework number. You can find the list of assignments on the homework page. I reserve the right to modify the homework assignments as I see necessary.
Daily Homework: Homework will be assigned each class meeting, and students are expected to complete (or try their best to complete) each assignment before walking into the next class period. All assignments should be carefully, clearly, and cleanly written. Among other things, this means your work should include proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. You should write a draft of a given solution before you write down the final argument, so do yourself a favor and get in the habit of differentiating your scratch work from your submitted assignment.
The Daily Homework will generally consist of completing exercises and proving theorems from the course notes. In addition to completing the assigned problems, I also want you to assess your own work. Next to each problem, I want you to write down a score between 0 and 4 that represents your perception of the validity and quality of your proposed solution/proof. Consider using the rubric given below in the description of the Weekly Homework assignments. Not completing the self-assessment step may impact the score on your homework.
On the day that a homework assignment is due, the majority of the class period will be devoted to students presenting some subset (maybe all) of the proofs/solutions that are due that day. At the end of each class session, students should submit their write-ups for all of the proofs that were due that day. Daily Homework will be graded using a $\checkmark$-system. Students are allowed (in fact, encouraged!) to modify their written proofs in light of presentations made in class; however, you are required to use the colored marker pens provided in class. I will provide more guidance with respect to this during the first couple weeks of the semester.
Weekly Homework: In addition to the Daily Homework, we will also have Weekly Homework assignments. For most of these assignments, you will be required to submit 2-4 formally written proofs. In general, two of the problems will come directly from the Daily Homework from the previous week. Any additional problems will likely be new. You will be required to type your submission using $\LaTeX$. I will walk you through how to do this. Each problem on the Weekly Homework assignments is subject to the following rubric:
|4||This is correct and well-written mathematics!|
|3||This is a good piece of work, yet there are some mathematical errors or some writing errors that need addressing.|
|2||There is some good intuition here, but there is at least one serious flaw.|
|1||I don't understand this, but I see that you have worked on it; come see me!|
|0||I believe that you have not worked on this problem enough or you didn't submit any work.|
Though the atmosphere in this class should be informal and friendly, what we do in the class is serious business. In particular, the presentations made by students are to be taken seriously since they spearhead the work of the class. Here are some of my expectations:
Presentations will be graded using the rubric below.
|4||Completely correct and clear solution/proof. Yay!|
|3||Solution/proof has minor technical flaws, some unclear language, or lacking some details. Essentially correct.|
|2||A partial explanation or solution is provided but a significant gap still exists.|
|1||Minimal progress has been made that includes relevant information & could lead to a solution/proof.|
|0||You were completely unprepared.|
However, you should not let the rubric deter you from presenting if you have an idea about a solution/proof that you’d like to present, but you are worried that your solution/proof is incomplete or you are not confident your solution/proof is correct. You will be rewarded for being courageous and sharing your creative ideas! Yet, you should not come to the board to present unless you have spent time thinking about the problem and have something meaningful to contribute.
In general, I will curate the list of student presenters each class meeting. However, students are welcome to volunteer. This type of behavior will be rewarded. If more than one student volunteers, the student with the fewest number of presentations has priority. The problems chosen for presentation will come from the Daily Homework assignments. Each student in the audience is expected to be engaged and respectful during another student’s presentation.
In order to receive a passing grade on the presentation portion of your grade, you must present at least twice prior to each of the three midterm exams and at least once after the third midterm exam for a total of at least 7 times during semester. Notice that I’ve described a minimum. To ensure a good grade, you should present as often as you can. Your overall performance during presentations, as well as your level of interaction/participation during class, will be worth 15% of your overall grade.
There will be three midterm exams and a cumulative final exam. Each midterm exam will be worth 15% of your overall grade and the final exam will be worth 20%. All of the exams will likely consist of both an in-class portion and a take-home portion. The in-class portions of the midterm exams are tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, February 17,
Wednesday, March 23 Wednesday, March 30, and Wednesday, April 20. The final exam will be on Monday, May 9 at 10:00AM-12:00PM. Make-up exams will only be given under extreme circumstances, as judged by me. In general, it will be best to communicate conflicts ahead of time.
You should not look to resources outside the context of this course for help. That is, you should not be consulting the web, other texts, other faculty, or students outside of our course. On the other hand, you may use each other, the course notes, me, and your own intuition.
In summary, your final grade will be determined by your scores in the following categories.
|Homework||20%||A combination of Daily & Weekly Homework|
|Presentations & Participation||15%||See above for requirements|
|Exam 1||15%||Wednesday, February 17|
|Final Exam||20%||Monday, May 9 at 10:00AM-12:00PM|
Regular attendance is expected and is vital to success in this course, but you will not explicitly be graded on attendance. Yet, repeated absences may impact your participation grade (see above). Students can find more information about NAU’s attendance policy on the Academic Policies page.
You are responsible for knowing and following the Department of Mathematics and Statistics Policies (PDF) and other University policies listed here (PDF). More policies can be found in other university documents, especially the NAU Student Handbook (see appendices) and the website of the Office of Student Life.
As per Department Policy, cell phones, MP3 players and portable electronic communication devices, including but not limited to smart phones, cameras and recording devices, must be turned off and inaccessible during in-class tests. Any violation of this policy will be treated as academic dishonesty.
Students are expected to treat each other with respect. Students are also expected to promote a healthy learning environment, as well as minimize distracting behaviors. In particular, you should be supportive of other students while they are making presentations. Moreover, every attempt should be made to arrive to class on time. If you must arrive late or leave early, please do not disrupt class.
Please turn off the ringer on your cell phone. I do not have a strict policy on the use of laptops, tablets, and cell phones. You are expected to be paying attention and engaging in class discussions. If your cell phone, etc. is interfering with your ability (or that of another student) to do this, then put it away, or I will ask you to put it away.
Here are some important dates:
There are many resources available to get help. First, I recommend that you work on homework in small groups as much as possible, and to come see me whenever necessary. I am always happy to help you. If my office hours don’t work for you, then we can probably find another time to meet. It is your responsibility to be aware of how well you understand the material. Don’t wait until it is too late if you need help. Ask questions! Lastly, you can always email me.
Any changes in this syllabus made during the term will be properly communicated to the class.
Mathematics & Teaching
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Flagstaff and NAU sit at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, on homelands sacred to Native Americans throughout the region. The Peaks, which includes Humphreys Peak (12,633 feet), the highest point in Arizona, have religious significance to several Native American tribes. In particular, the Peaks form the Diné (Navajo) sacred mountain of the west, called Dook'o'oosłííd, which means "the summit that never melts". The Hopi name for the Peaks is Nuva'tukya'ovi, which translates to "place-of-snow-on-the-very-top". The land in the the area surrounding Flagstaff is the ancestral homeland of the Hopi, Ndee/Nnēē (Western Apache), Yavapai, A:shiwi (Zuni Pueblo), and Diné (Navajo). We honor their past, present, and future generations, who have lived here for millennia and will forever call this place home.