Friday, May 24, 2024

Haiku in Math Class

      One of my recent discoveries of math-poetry is in the activities of Hofstra University professor Johanna Franklin,   Franklin asks her students to compose Haiku and she has recently sent me the following material from various courses and semesters:

Math equals patterns
patterns not everyone sees
patterns we all need.
        (introduction to proofs, Spring 2023)

Why do I have my math students write haikus at the end of the semester? Because I love both poetry and playing with words, and the American conception of a haiku strikes me as a perfect poem for a mathematician: the counting of syllables, the symmetry.

When you're working with
inconsistent axioms
deduce anything.  

          (upper-division mathematical logic, Spring 2018)

When did I start having my math classes write haikus? The earliest ones on my website are from my Fall 2015 probability class, but that wasn’t actually the first time. I did it as a postdoc at Dartmouth as an optional last question on a final in 2011, but those poems have been lost to the ages.

So many questions
About colored balls and dice
What is not to like? 
(upper-division probability/statistics, Fall 2015)

How do I fit this into the course? In courses with weekly homework, I might make it the last problem on the last homework assignment (for the single bonus point I give on homework all semester). In courses with discussion boards, this takes the place of the “icebreaker question” in the last week.

Dear Barbarians, 
The naturals start at zero. 
You should believe me.

          (real analysis, Fall 2016)

Do I write them, too? Of course. I wouldn’t ask a student to do something like this if I wouldn’t do it myself.

Through Rn we stride
Conservative fields, inbound!
Surely, curl div found.

         (calculus 3, Spring 2019)

What do I and they learn? We learn that “probability” has five syllables, that my examples are often silly but memorable, and that we can communicate a lot about mathematics in 17 syllables. 

If it is raining,
then the sidewalk must be wet, 
Tell me what you think. 

            (lower-division logic, sets, and probability, Fall 2020)

For more, please visit Franklin's teaching website.

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