By Susan Ruff Johann’s presentation on partitions was carefully crafted. The math was completely correct, the board work was neat and legible, the delivery was professional, and the timing was perfect. But the talk was so dry and formal that the other students quickly reverted to the blank look that suggests they have more interesting things to think about. In contrast, Karen’s presentation on generating functions gained and held the attention of many of the students. She successfully conveyed the beauty and power of generating functions . . . to the front half of the class. The rest couldn’t hear […]

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The language of mathematics can throw up barriers to broad dissemination of information about mathematics. Mathematical statements are supposed to be precise, devoid of the ambiguities of ordinary speech. The language is unusually dense and relies heavily on a specialized vocabulary. The meaning and position of every word and symbol make a difference. Mathematician William Thurston once expressed the difference between reading mathematics and reading other subject matter in this way: “Mathematicians attach meaning to the exact phrasing of a sentence, much more than is conventional. The meanings of words are more precisely delimited. When I read articles or listen to speeches […]

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