Thursday, January 25, 2007

Teaching Vignettes

I heard about this Italian course where the teacher says at the beginning, "At the end of this course, you will be able to order coffee at a Starbucks with confidence."

I hear there is a primary school program (in Japan?) where the kids are taught to use chopsticks. The exam? Assaf, the new New Yorker, tells me that the final exam is to flip over oiled coins (say dimes) placed on a table top, as many as possible. I learned to use chopsticks and shovel rice because if I didn't, I wouldn't get anything to eat (at the Cantonese family style dining table a long time ago); later, for the pure pleasure, I learned to wrap lettuce, cut nori and chop dumplings to share. Seguing into art and chopsticks, I like the work of Donna Keiko Ozawa who has created nice pieces out of dumps, including sculptures with waribashi, the disposable wooden chopstick (of course there is a video of the artist describing the work on youtube) .

Teaching happens at many different levels of course. Joe Kilian recently mentioned (in the context of the graph evasiveness conjecture) that there were many problems in theoretical CS which are easy to state, and highly nontrivial to solve or open for long; introducing them to math researchers early in their career will help attract them to our area.

Finally, I hear in India they train elephants from when they are little by tying them down to a stake. The baby elephant learns that it can not escape. Later, a rope can hold a grown elephant to the stake, I am told.


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