Category Archives: Teaching

Artin’s Criterion

Picture of Artin

Emil Artin, picture from Wikipedia

There’s been a long lull in updates to this page.  I’ve posted elsewhere about the reason for that: in brief, I was found to have cancer, and subsequent treatments have kept me busy for months.  You can read about this on my personal website, but I’m not going to write more about it here.

Meanwhile though I have been slowly writing up a book-length version of my MASS 2013 course, “Winding Around”, whose central theme is “The Winding Number in Topology, Geometry and Analysis”.  As I was “winding around” myself and trying to complete Chapter 5 in a way that was satisfactory, I ran into an interesting “gap” in my own understanding.  This is related to the homology version of Cauchy’s theorem.  This is usually stated in the following way.

Theorem  Let \(f\) be a function that is holomorphic on an open subset \(\Omega\subseteq\mathbb C\), and let \(\Gamma\) be a cycle in \(\Omega\) that is nullhomologous, this being defined to mean that the winding number of \(\Gamma\) about each point of \({\mathbb C}\setminus\Omega\) is zero.   Then

\[ \int_\Gamma f(z)dz = 0. \]

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Math 312 and “structured proving”

This coming semester I will be teaching a couple of sections of Math 312, which is the introductory real analysis course at Penn State.  The only prerequisite for this course is Calculus II (Math 141) and, in particular, students are not required to have taken an “introduction to proofs” course; though, in practice, many of them will have done so.

I have long thought that in teaching a first or second proof-based course, especially in analysis with lots of quantifiers floating about, one should try to emphasize the “block structured” nature of proofs, analogous to the block-structured nature of a programming language like C.  I had the impression that I came up with this idea for myself, but Dan Velleman wrote a whole beautiful book (How to Prove It) from this perspective, and I know I read the first edition of that book when I was in Oxford, so probably that is where I became aware of this point of view.

Anyhow, I spent a day writing some TeX macros to format “block structured” proofs.  Follow this link for a few examples.

One of the pleasing things about structuring proofs this way is that one can describe how a proof is constructed, by compressing the lower-level data.  Here for example are compressed versions of the three proofs above.

The symbol \( \require{AMSsymbols}\blacktriangle\quad\blacksquare\quad\blacktriangledown \) for the omitted material is supposed to remind students that there are three ways to look: “up” for the givens at this point in the proof, “down” for the goals for which this part of the proof is reaching, and “across” to construct some argument linking the local givens to the local goals.

Does anyone have experience using this sort of explicitly structured proof in Analysis I? How did it work out?

Mathematics for Sustainability website

Some readers will know that I have been thinking for a year or so about a course on Mathematics for Sustainability to teach at PSU early next year.  I’ve written regularly about this at my Points of Inflection blog, for instance here, here and here.

The official proposal for the course is wending its way through the Faculty Senate approval process.  Assuming all goes according to plan, the course will be on the books this fall, and I will offer it for the first time in Fall 2014.

I’ve created a website for this course-to-be at  It’s pretty much of a skeleton right now, but I plan to fill it out over the year so that it becomes a full-fledged resource for the course by next year.  So check back regularly.


“Winding Around” now going up

The website for my MASS course, “Winding Around” (Math 497C, Fall 2013) is now live.

Winding Around” is an introduction to topology using the winding number as a unifying theme. It’s intended to be different from most introductory topology courses because we’ll try to define the key concept (winding number) as economically as possible and then  apply it in many different ways.

One of the inspirations for this course is the classic expository paper

Atiyah, M. F. “Algebraic Topology and Elliptic Operators.” Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 20, no. 2 (1967): 237–249. doi:10.1002/cpa.3160200202.

and if things go according to plan I hope that we may get to discuss the Bott periodicity theorem at the end of the course, in the spirit of Atiyah’s article.

A rigid framework

Well, I am back from Yosemite, but not in quite the way I had hoped. I was climbing the Prow on Washington Column with Aaron McMillan (a grad student from Berkeley, student of Weinstein’s) and on our second day I took a fall resulting in a broken ankle and the end of our climbing vacation. If you are interested in the long version you can find the story here.

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