Martin's Blog

French Lectures

Posted by Martin Orr on Sunday, 20 September 2009 at 15:52

I had my first lectures in Paris this week. They are much longer than Cambridge lectures: 2 or 2.5 hours per lecture. And you have one lecture in the morning, then the same course again in the afternoon. (In Cambridge lectures are 1 hour, you have about 3 different lectures in a day, and they are only in the mornings.) I had this every day this week, so that was quite a lot. For the first three weeks there are some introductory courses, which take place every day. When term starts properly in October I will only have 2 or 3 days of lectures per week.

The two courses for which I had lectures this week were Algebra and Geometry, and Complex Analysis. The first is all stuff I already know from Part III. Sometimes it is interesting to see it taught from a different (more geometric) perspective, and sometimes it is just boring. The Complex Analysis one is not really relevant to what I am interested in, but I thought I would go along just to broaden my knowledge.

The lectures are all in French, but the lecturers speak reasonably clearly so that is rarely a problem. Reading what they have written can sometimes be harder, and they don't write full sentences on the board as lecturers usually do in Cambridge. That means that I'm not learning how to write maths in French as I had hoped, and I often don't know what to write to fill in the gaps in what they wrote on the board.

There are about 18 people attending the lectures. The audience at the Algebra and Geometry ones is quite international. I think I am the only native English speaker, but the majority of the audience are probably more comfortable speaking English than French. There are more French people at the analysis lectures.

no comments Tags france, languages, lectures, m2, paris

Part III and examples classes

Posted by Martin Orr on Sunday, 06 September 2009 at 16:47

Before I head off to Paris next week, I want to write a blog post about Part III. I greatly enjoyed Part III, particularly because of the friends I made and the experience of learning maths together with other people, while I have always done it as a largely solitary activity before. However when I sat down to write this, it turned out to be mainly about examples classes. These are, or should be, an important and useful part of the course, but I frequently found myself dissatisfied with my examples classes.

Through the year, I believed that the ideal class would consist of students presenting their solutions to the others. While I have never had any hesitation about presenting my solutions, it turns out that other people are more reluctant and my attempts to encourage people to take part had limited success. In part, this is sensible because it is difficult to explain to others how to solve a problem you did a few days ago and have not thought about since (a different skill from giving a prepared talk or lecture).

Furthermore audience-run examples classes have other problems. The easiest way of presenting a solution (as mentioned a difficult task) is to write up every line on the blackboard. This will probably result in the examples class taking too long, and is usually unnecessary - a summary of the key steps should be sufficient, along with pointing out any particularly fiddly bits.

At the end of the year, I had a chat with Jessica about lecturers' office hours, which are a standard part of US teaching. In Cambridge it is assumed that if you want to ask a lecturer something you will do so informally, by email or by ambushing them after a lecture. Lecturers are usually very generous in responding to such questions, but perhaps if they allocated a formal time for questions then people having difficulties would be more likely to think of using them. Also questions, even if asked privately, are usually better answered publicly because several people might have the same question (I am not sure if US office hours deal are public events).

One or two lecturers (usually with US experience) do offer office hours, but I think it would be worthwhile to conduct an experiment on a larger scale. If any Part III students are reading, I encourage you to ask your lecturers questions and, if you and your colleagues think it would be useful, suggest that they try an office hour, with an explanation of why it would provide benefits not otherwise achievable.

no comments Tags lectures, partiii

End of Michaelmas term

Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 05 December 2005 at 09:20

This week was the last week of term and I returned to Belfast on Saturday. There was an exciting climax to my round of lectures. I did Law on Monday; on Tuesday I had arranged to go to Chinese History (for Oriental Studies) at 11. I had found the second year Trinity art historian, who told me who the first year was but I still hadn't found her; according to my reading of the lecture list, the only remaining Art History lecture was at 10 on Tuesday. So I had to borrow a bike in order to get between the History of Art and Oriental Studies departments.

However when I arrived at the Department of History of Art at 10 am, there was clearly no lecture. I assumed that the art historians had decided to take the last week off and that I would be unable to complete the subjects this term. However I found Sophie, the art historian, in the afternoon and she told me that there was a lecture on Wednesday morning. It turns out I had misread the lecture list, although I'm still not clear how it maps onto reality. Anyway that done, there was little to do in the last couple of days and it was odd to be hanging around Cambridge with no work needing to be done.

-- Martin

no comments Tags cambridge, lectures

Fire in the College Chapel

Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 28 November 2005 at 08:46

Yesterday I was stewarding at the College Advent service, the biggest service of the year. This meant welcoming people and directing them to seats; but also being in charge of fire safety. In fact in the event of a fire I was responsible for getting people through the main doors from the Chapel into the ante-Chapel; this is a major job as there were 500 people in the Chapel and only one other fire exit (and that exit is newly added). Fire is in fact a significant risk at this service because it is all candle-lit. Fortunately that part of my duties was not required.

The last few days of this week were very busy as I had one examples sheet due in on Thursday and another on Friday, as well as a German class and supervision on Friday. I now have just two more questions left to do on my last examples sheet for this term, and two more supervisions. Plus a German listening test on Friday, the day before I come home. In terms of going to all courses' lectures, there are three left: Law, Oriental Studies and History of Art. There are also three more days of lectures. History of Art in particular is difficult as there is only one first year in the college doing it and I don't know who they are. So I may or may not get that completed.

For those in Focus, see you on Sunday,

-- Martin

no comments Tags cambridge, chapel, languages, lectures, trinity

Cambridge week 4

Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 31 October 2005 at 08:54

Well I will have been here a month tomorrow. I don't have much to write about from this week so I will write a bit about why this is such a great place.

One thing I like is the variety of people I am living with. There are people from all around the world - 30% of Trinity's students are from overseas (a lot from Poland). First there are those whom I see many times a day, who live along my corridor and it's always good to say hello to or have a chat with. A group of us went to see the Wallace and Gromit film last week. Five out of ten are Mathmos and another two Natscis (Natural Science). Then when I go to Hall for a meal, I eat with other people from round the college who are studying lots of different subjects.

It is also a great place to learn. I have written about how useful I find supervisions; and always having another good mathematician to talk to about a problem is helpful. But for me who is interested in everything, there are lots of opportunities to learn about other things as well. For example there are the language courses I am doing, and a good college library. Plus of course you can go to lectures in other subjects - I did Engineering and Politics this week.

-- Martin

no comments Tags cambridge, lectures, supervisions, trinity

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