I’m your teacher for Math 118, Beginning Algebra. I'm very excited about the term coming up. I'll be using the Internet more than I have in the past, allowing me to communicate one-on-one with each of you more, and allowing me to share some great resources with you. I’d like to introduce myself, and tell you a bit about my philosophy of teaching.

I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, and, although I love it, I've always been sad that the joy of math has been driven out of most students. (Do you remember when you were really young? Most little kids love thinking about big numbers, and enjoy counting things. If we could build on the natural curiosity young kids have, perhaps students would come to me eager to pursue some deeper math questions.) I think the way we do schooling is partially responsible for this, and I wish it could be very different. I have a poem about my ideal school on my blog, Math Mama Writes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

For the past school year, I was on sabbatical, working on a book called Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and the Internet. (It's pretty much done, but not published yet.) I wanted to think deeply about how people learn math when they choose how and when to learn it. I hope my research over the past year will bring enough excitement to this class to help you see math differently. I’ve pulled together lots of exciting new ways for us to approach algebra together, and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

A lot of people have some wrong ideas about math. One thing people often think is that you need to memorize everything. In our class, I'll show you why that's not true. For now, here are some myths about math, and some background about them. If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear your point of view.

Many people come into math classes full of anxiety, or even fear. I’ve produced a relaxation audio track that might help you if you're anxious in math class, or at test time. You are also welcome to borrow (from me) Overcoming Math Anxiety, by Sheila Tobias, or Mind Over Math, by Kogelman and Warren. If you start addressing this issue right now, you will be better able to learn during the course. (Google 'math anxiety', and start exploring.)

Our Text
One reason I’m writing to you before the term starts is to ask you to make sure you have a textbook with you on the first day. There is an official text for the course, by Elayn Martin-Gay, which costs well over $100. I am disturbed by the cost of textbooks, and would like to make alternate arrangements. Most Beginning Algebra textbooks cover almost exactly the same material. You may buy any Beginning Algebra textbook, if you will take responsibility for finding our current topic each day in your book. I won’t teach out of the text, but I will expect you to do homework problems, daily, from the text. If you are diligent, any text will work. You can find older editions of our text at Better World Books (free postage), on Amazon, or at other online booksellers, for under $10. You can also find books by other authors. You will want a text written for college students of beginning algebra. You should be able to find used texts at under $10. [Make sure you don't get just a workbook or answer key by mistake.]

If you’d like more detail about how the class will be run, here's our syllabus.

I’d like to know if any of you are experienced with putting videos on youtube. I’m hoping to find a few volunteers who can make short videos of some of the lessons I present, and post them there. In Spring 2009, my beginning algebra class volunteered to demonstrate a few problems at the board while being recorded on video. (What courage!) We were all beginners at this, so the quality wasn't the best, but doing this helped a number of students learn the material better. (Here they are.)

You can find high-quality (but less personal) math videos at a number of places online:

I'll also be setting up a place where we can meet online. I've started out at wikispaces, but if the college has a good internal choice, I may switch over to that.

You can see more of what I think at my blog, Math Mama Writes.

I'm looking forward to a great semester with you. See you in class! (The first day is Monday, August 16.)

Professor Sue VanHattum

P.S. If you’d like to get ahead, one of the first assignments will be to write a math autobiography. Here’s mine. I’m looking for something at least half as long as this. Although reading students’ horror stories about previous bad math classes saddens me (and gets me mad at a system that perpetuates it), I’m grateful to know more about where you’re coming from. Of course, if your previous math experiences have been positive, that’s a delightful thing to hear.

P.P.S. If you can send me a close-up photo, so I can learn what you look like, I'd be grateful. I'll be trying to learn over 100 names, and any I can learn early will make that easier.