Other News -  Diary of a Mathematical Physics Course (152 views) Notify me whenever anyone posts in this discussion.Subscribe
From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconJan-8 1:54 PM 
To: All  (1 of 7) 

This is the second new class I will have to teach this term. It is considerably out of my comfort zone. If I had not decided to offer it, majors would have had to wait a year to take it. The class was actually restarted after almost a decade without due to my initiative, but it was interpreted differently by David than intended. I watched some of last year’s taped online lectures and I understand now why students have been upset with how this was taught. It was a dull reading out of what the textbook says, no explanations given anywhere, anytime. No examples shown.

I will use this opportunity to turn this class into what it was supposed to be: to teach our majors the practical math they wmill need in our theory class before they take the theory classes.

Some of the students you already know if you read about my last StatMech class: Danish is back, West and Cy are here too. If you recall, they all counted among the weaker students in the StatMech class. Then there is Shannon, an astronomy major. She is quite good but not top notch. Trevor, Reese, and Mason you know from the Classical Mechanics class. Then there is Michael, a recent astronomy transfer student. He seems to be quite good. Luke, a weak astronomy major, who fails many classes at his first try. Stacy, an astronomy major, whose record is very similar to Shannon’s, perhaps a little weaker. Agnesh, an international student from India, who has shown recent mental health concerns. Brock, an astronomy major. He will define the top of the class. And finally Dalton, who studies on a GI bill. He started as a major, but changed to Computer Science and who is still a minor. 

An exciting, and a bit scary aspect of this class will be that my intent is to pass all students, if possible at all. It is scary because  that is not my usual approach. It means that I will have to make concessions about rigor. Why would I do that? Well, because of the purpose of the class to prepare the practical math ability of our students for upper level course work. I want to get as many of them as well prepared as they can.

  • Edited January 9, 2022 12:47 pm  by  YoungGandalf
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From: RebeccahQPJan-14 12:23 AM 
To: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member Icon  (2 of 7) 
 14743.2 in reply to 14743.1 

Best of luck in your endeavor.  What math topics will you be covering?





From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconJan-14 8:16 AM 
To: RebeccahQP  (3 of 7) 
 14743.3 in reply to 14743.2 


I ease them in with visualizing functions, starting with one type they had in class before and expanding it to one they have not seen before in detail. Next day, I will do Gaussian integrals, a very common application in many physics classes that lay ahead of them. Then other special functions, like error function, Dirac delta, Stirling approximation.

Complex numbers, vector spaces, vector calculus (del operator, gradient, divergence, curl applications), matrices, probability calculus with distribution functions. Special series expansions and polynoms like Legendre. That is about it.

  • Edited January 14, 2022 8:16 am  by  YoungGandalf

From: RebeccahQPJan-14 4:37 PM 
To: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member Icon  (4 of 7) 
 14743.4 in reply to 14743.3 

Cool.  I think it's a really good idea to have a separate class devoted to this stuff.  Trying to learn it at the same time as the physics itself is a challenge, and straight math classes won't deal with it in the same way..





From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconJan-19 10:07 PM 
To: All  (5 of 7) 
 14743.5 in reply to 14743.1 

First day of classes in the Math/Phys course today. On the plus side, I succeeded yesterday to trade a classroom with 32 seats for the smaller one with 20 seats for this class of 14. That way there can be a modicum of distancing and my video taping with the classroom cameras allows for better perspectives and angles. Also, most students showed uo for lecture and had a positive attitude :-)

I explained the ropes of the syllabus, laid out my philosophy for the class, and we got to talk a little about transcendental numbers. It turned out that only two students had even heard of such things but weren’t sure what they are. I caught there attention by telling them that quite possibly most famous physics constants are such numbers and that the functions they have used most, trig, log, and exponential spit out mostly transcendental numbers.

As always, if long time posters are interested to sneak view the tapes, I can PM you a link. Just keep it confidential.


From: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member IconMar-24 10:56 AM 
To: All  (6 of 7) 
 14743.6 in reply to 14743.5 

So, we just had midterm grades due and this may be a time for an update. With midterm grades came the midterm exams. Most Students did reasonably well on exams. Still, I have quite a few students, who will or who may fail this class that I intended for skill building and not for sorting out.

Some students, Luke, Jose (a late enrollment return student, who had contemplated to drop out of the major), and West (who just does not turn in homework) are under water. Cy is close to failing but may yet turn this around. I reached out to her to help, she thanked for that but did not follow up. Next week is advising week. If she shows up for that I will try to probe what she needs to succeed. 

Stacy and Shannon are doing okay, but do not excel. Agnesh ditto, except that he does often not come to class for health reasons. Mason, a student athlete, and Danish, a young father with a sickly child, never come to lecture. Trevor and Dalton hang in by a thread and are trying to keep up.

The material we have covered and plan to cover still has undergone some major changes. After the first topics of special functions and Gaussian integrals, class was massively behind schedule. Most students do not read the book and that slows teaching down because one has to spend time on introducing definitions. The book we use is an interesting choice as it comments not just on the math but also on where the math matters in physics. I thought that would entice the students to read it. I was wrong. The book also came for free. I am wondering whether that is one reason why they do not read it.

Reese and Brock are the top students in class. They do read ahead. They can solve each task that I do interactively with the students during lecture. Some topics are more practical, like calculating gradient, divergence, or curls of scalar fields and vector fields. Or like using complex and imaginary numbers this week in class. Next up are Linear Vector Fields, the foundations of Quantum Mechanics. I will introduce bra and ket vectors. That will make for a difficult lift. Then homework four will be due, the first after midterms and it should tell me the direction this class is going.

Anybody, who is curious about the book or about the kind of math we are doing, can get a free book download here

Mathematical Physics, 9783030396824.

Free download link:


Tomorrow, we will start on chapter ten. The bit I did most recently on complex numbers is not at all in this book, except for a very short review at the start of chapter 22 (22.1.1).

I did a whole lot more because my students have had to deal with complex numbers here or there, but I know that there was never an in-depth introduction given.

  • Edited March 24, 2022 1:50 pm  by  YoungGandalf

From: AletheiaAthaApr-26 5:49 PM 
To: YoungGandalf DelphiPlus Member Icon  (7 of 7) 
 14743.7 in reply to 14743.6 
YoungGandalf said...


Most students do not read the book


It sounds like an expectations thing.

Maybe next year, prepare a 60 second quiz to start each lecture, where you give out a red/green card, pop up on the board a question that will be simple to answer for anyone who has read the next chapter (so no calculation - more "is XXX theory the name of A or B?"), and students put the card in front of them the red or green side up depending on whether they think A or B.    Wield sarcasm to make clear that any student who doesn't do the reading ahead is going to get embarrassed publicly :-)


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