So, it’s been a week since I got back from PCMI, and it’s taken that much time to recover from it. I wrote about the first week, and in particular the general first impressions and experience in this blog post. A lot happened in the subsequent two weeks, and I just wanted to write about some of the highlights.
As I mentioned in my previous post, most of my activities were with my own group, the Undergraduate Faculty Program, but I attended as many cross-program activities as I could, and spent a good amount of time socializing and chatting with people. There was even time for fun hikes and swims. Here are the things I really enjoyed.
First and foremost, working with the UFP people has been an amazing experience. What a smart, profound, and fun group that was! We learned some pretty hard math (did I mention these people were SMART?), and we had some very interesting discussions about pedagogy. AND, we managed to still have a ton of fun. In the few pictures below, you can see that I mean it. In a few days, I will be posting a more detailed reflection on the pedagogy part of this, since I think it deserves its own platform. For now, I leave you with a glimpse of my wonderful, goofy, brilliant colleagues. (As a braggy side note, I will say that the organizers thought that our group was the most successful of all… just sayin’.)
As in the first week, I also really enjoyed the cross-program activities. In particular, there was great variety in the types of talks and events. For example, it was really fun to go to the 3D-printing workshop as well as Henry Segerman‘s talk. It really gave a new dimension (pun intended) to the whole process when you sit there and try to design something that is printable and won’t take forever to print. In our session, we designed and printed a spiral on the spot.
There were also great talks, my favorites being the ones by Dagan Karp (UFP leader extraordinaire) and Robbert Dijkgraaf (Director for the Institute of Advanced Study). They were pretty different as far as talks go, Dagan walked us through enumerative geometry, starting with basic examples and ending with string theory and mirror symmetry (blowing everyone’s minds in the process). Dijkgraff’s had a similar end result (it was called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Quantum Physics in Mathematics”), exposing us to the seemingly magical an ubiquitous connections between math and physics, but was much more about the history of the two fields, and contained many amazing quotes. I couldn’t keep track of them all, but my favorite was an “anonymous” rebuttal to a quote attributed to Feynman. The Feynman quote goes: “If all of mathematics disappeared, physics would be set back by exactly one week.” And the rebuttal: “Yes, the week that God created the world.”
Another fun event was a conversation we scheduled with the Teacher Leadership Program. This happened on the very last week, which was unfortunate. I think we had much more to share and discuss than was possible in that one hour period. Still, it was fun to talk to some of the teachers. In particular, I heard the words “productive struggle” uttered by a few different people, and as a student-centered and IBL person myself, that was very exciting to hear. Also, most of these teachers don’t hate the common core, just the way it’s being implemented (and I’m with them).
Other fun things, in no particular order: the mathematics of game shows (with contestants and prizes!), line-dancing, feeding the goats on the hotel property, and meeting all sorts of different, fun people. I really recommend attending this, or recommending this to your students. I heard from some of the undergraduates that they learned a lot more than at some REUs they have attended, so it seems to be a great experience for them too. Start getting your application ready for next year, where the theme is Big Data, or the year after that, for Random Matrix Theory! And if you go next year, you get a chance to get a group photo on the carousel! (see below.)