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Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!

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  • Subject: [mg130923] Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!
  • From: Andrzej Kozlowski <akozlowski at>
  • Date: Sat, 25 May 2013 05:41:39 -0400 (EDT)
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Well, to disappoint everyone I have to confess that here, at Warsaw 
University, we are going to have a university wide course in 
Mathematica, open to all students of mathematics, natural sciences, 
economics and finance and even (oh horror!) computer science (in fact, I 
am not in the process of trying to "sell" this course to my the students 
in my analysis for computer science class). We have actually received a 
grant, quite substantial by Polish standards, to implement such a 
course, and, of course, since everyone likes extra money, this has meant 
that there has been no opposition or grumbling about it from any "old 
fogies" (except perhaps one guy who complained that Mathematica was not 
open source but we quickly stifled him).

An even greater heresy: the course also is going to involve some 
knowledge of Wolfram Alpha: in fact it is entitled "Mathematics with 
Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha". (To RJF - no, we are not going to teach 
anything about any other CAS. If anyone likes to use something other 
than Mathematica they can learn it itself, but won't get any credit for 
it). Actually, our course is going to be a "supervised, self-study and 
Internet based course". In other words, we (the project authors, who are 
getting paid for designing and realising it) will prepare study 
materials (scripts, videos, problems in different disciplines that can 
be solved with the help of Mathematica or Wolfram|Alpha, tests, etc. but 
there won't be any lectures. There will however be tests and students 
will be able to get credit for passing them - otherwise, of course, it 
would be hard to get them interested.

A large part of the grant is for buying a fairly large number of copies 
of Mathematica (in addition to the ones that are already here).

Our motives for designing this project are quite selfish (and I don't 
only mean the fact that we are going to be paid for this). There are 
several of us who want to use Mathematica in our courses and it is a 
pain to have to waste time on teaching students the basics of 
Mathematica. Soon there will be several new courses available to math 
and science students in which Mathematica will be used. One of them is a 
new course on the differential geometry of curves and surfaces, which 
will be offered in addition to the already existing one which does not 
use any computer software. (Students will be able to take both 
sequentially - they are going to be sufficiently different for this to 
make sense). There is also a course that I have taught in the past, for 
which there has been a big demand among students of finance - on 
modelling jump processes. Contrary to the strange ideas RJF got from my 
earlier post, this is not something that statistics packages have been 
doing for years, actually it involves things that are pretty new (so 
much that there are still unresolved problems with some of the 
algorithms) and, in fact, I am proud to admit to having played a certain 
role in this implementation in Mathematica.

We actually have quite a few people here who although they themselves 
don't use Mathematica or CAS systems at all, have shown a lot of 
interest in having students learn such things. The main interest is, in 
fact, not so much in symbolic computation but in graphics used to 
illustrate various phenomena in topology, complex analysis etc. Although 
one might expect that there should already be lots of such illustrations 
available on the Internet (or even on Wolfram's Demonstrations Site" 
this does not seem to be actually the case.

Of course, all of this is at this time only in its infancy. About a year 
from now I should be able to say something about the success or failure 
of this project. At this time the thing that worries me the most is the 
amount of work I foresee in trying to realise all we have promised in 
the proposal.

Andrzej Kozlowski

On 24 May 2013, at 12:27, mathgroup <fizzymath at> wrote:

> I had to chuckle at your use of the word 'conceal'.....unfortunately, I
> agree with your comment....mentioning Mathematica seems akin to
> treason.....that was the reaction I felt...
> jb
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Murray Eisenberg
> Sent: Thursday, May 23, 2013 10:00 AM
> To: mathgroup
> Subject: Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!
> This is not an uncommon situation at colleges and universities.
> Too many of the old fogies -- and, more dangerously, the "young fogies" -- 
> know about Ma. . t. .b and cannot imagine why anybody who needs to do
> computing would use anything else. After all, it was good enough for them.
> (Exception: Canadians who thing the same about M . . . e.)
> Similarly, too many mathematicians cannot see why their students should not
> learn how to carry out long and complex symbolic calculations, e.g.,
> symbolic integration, with paper and pencil; after all, they had to do it.
> Oddly enough, some of these same mathematicians use powerful symbolic
> programs to do their own research in number theory, algebraic geometry, etc.
> But I'm sympathetic to the view that there shouldn't be a course in a
> mathematics department on Mathematica per se. Just as there shouldn't be a
> course there in LaTeX per se. Just as Computer Science departments say they
> don't have a course in any programming language.
> So if one is to make any headway, then one has to almost conceal the
> Mathematica within a mathematics course whose subject is some mathematical
> topics, or an engineering course whose subject is some engineering topic,
> etc. Just as, e.g., in some "junior year writing" courses taught by math
> departments, LaTeX is introduced and students have to do some or all of
> their papers in LaTeX. Or a mathematics department course in complex
> analysis where small teams of students do projects presenting some topic via
> a Mathematica notebook (where a couple of the projects might be teaching
> some Mathematica basics).
> Perhaps this "sneaky" way is not the most efficient way for teaching and
> learning Mathematica, but it can work. In fact, Stephen Wolfram wrote in
> "The Mathematica Book" some years ago that, after learning a few basics and
> trying some simple examples from the book (today, the Documentation Center),
> "You will probably find it best to start by picking a specific problem to
> work on. Pick a problem that you understand well. . . Then go through each
> step in solving the problem, learning what you need to know about
> Mathematica to do it."
> On May 23, 2013, at 4:10 AM, mathgroup <fizzymath at> wrote:
>> David...
>> But that was exactly my point...I tried so hard with our Community College
>> and University to get Mathematica into the curriculum....or, as I said, to
>> give some lectures and examples on the use of Mathematica....and ALL of
>> them,  Engineering, Math and Physics Depts said  'Thanks but No Thanks',
>> as
>> if they have something against Mathematica....It seemed that the idea that
>> students would not use pencil and paper in as laborious a manner as
>> possible
>> really bothered them....Not once did they think perhaps this might lead to
>> a
>> real enjoyment of technical subjects and perhaps to much better
>> understanding of their course work......even when I was working I was
>> affectionately known as 'The Mathematica Nut'...although, I'm reminded of
>> something that Nietzsche said....
>> "Overzealousness on the part of one person can lead the others to
>> Apostasy".....
>> jerry blimbaum
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: djmpark
>> Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 9:28 AM
>> To: 'mathgroup ' ; mathgroup at
>> Subject: Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!
>> It will be done by example. Several people will work together, exchanging
>> Mathematica notebooks or working on a common notebook. The notebooks will
>> be
>> what I call "literate"; they will look something like a technical paper or
>> report, but they will take advantage of all the active and dynamic
>> features
>> of Mathematica, and contain generated knowledge in the form of active and
>> immediately accessible routines and definitions developed in the course of
>> the effort.
>> The notebooks will be of higher integrity than paper and pencil work, or
>> using Mathematica as a programmed calculator and copying out because of
>> all
>> the self-proofing and additional checks that can be performed. (Of course,
>> one can still make errors but they should be rarer and not the common
>> variety.)
>> That all this can be done in a single application is a tremendous
>> advantage.
>> Someday other people will see what they are doing and the advantages are
>> so
>> great they will want to do the same thing. The task is getting more people
>> to write and use good examples.
>> David Park
>> djmpark at
>> From: mathgroup [mailto:fizzymath at]
>> I want to comment on my experience , limited of course, with  students of
>> Engineering, Engineers and Professors of background is
>> Physics...
>> First,  I get the impression that , in the main, Symbolic Computation,
>> etc.
>> is not something they are really interested in......After I retired, I
>> took
>> several courses in Electromagnetics, one Graduate and the other
>> Undergraduate......No one suggested the use of or taught the potential
>> applications of Mathematica....Even in the Graduate course, I was the only
>> student using Symbolic software fact, the students did everything
>> by hand and whenever something required software, such as Antenna
>> patterns,
>> out came M-------b with some code , etc....and that was the end of
>> it....So,
>> the students knew no better....and the Professors didn't care or weren't
>> interested themselves in the benefits of learning and solving problems
>> Symbolically....I asked one Professor if I could give a class lecture on
>> the
>> use of Mathematica for Electromagnetics...He agreed but than said   'I can
>> only give you about ten minutes'....I respectfully declined the offer....
>> So, how does WRI expand its market?....IMO, there have to be dedicated
>> Teachers on how to use Mathematica in what I'll call the Research Mode not
>> just define given functions from the text and plot it.......from what I
>> have
>> seen of the attitude of Instructors and Professors I'm anything but
>> Optimistic....I went to our local Colleges and suggested a sequence of
>> courses in Mathematica  ending with Animation and Simulation....That got
>> me
>> nowhere especially with the Math, in part, I see people who are
>> stuck in pencil and paper and refuse to get out of it....
>> Again, of course, this is my limited experience...Perhaps others have had
>> different and better ones...
>> Jerry Blimbaum
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: paulmchale7 at
>> Sent: Sunday, May 19, 2013 4:50 AM
>> To: mathgroup at
>> Subject: Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!
>> I have (maybe) a minority perspective on Mathematica being an engineer.  I
>> used it long ago at university at version 1.  The next time I would use it
>> would be a wolfram approved ebay purchase of version 4.  I have used it
>> ever
>> since, but am still rookie in some ways.
>> I believe WRI is attempting to broaden the user base rather than deepen
>> the
>> product.  They are doing this by adding (from our perspective) non-value
>> add
>> features to lure people in.  The argument is the learning curve is less
>> which should lead to greater sales.  This is not how it works at any place
>> I
>> have been.
>> The only engineering sales force that matters is engineers.  If they can't
>> argue for the product, it will not happen.  Engineers can't argue for
>> something they are unable use until after purchase and additional
>> training.
>> If you want engineers to demonstrate something or argue for it, you have
>> to
>> do more than offer wizards and connections to WolframAlpha which only
>> apply
>> after the sale.  Engineers need to show understanding and capability.
>> Managers have to show accounting they are saving money by buying
>> Mathematica.  Improvements in quality of OUR products or ability to
>> address
>> greater problems is not quantifiable to the brigade of MBAs who run modern
>> businesses.  There has to be quantifiable savings.  This has to be
>> demonstrated by engineering staff before purchase and framed in terms of
>> reduced need for time (salary expense).
>> I think this can only be achieved by making the online education material
>> targeted to a specific audience.  This material must solve real problems
>> in
>> a way that conveys the underlying capability.
>> I have been told by WRI that most users will only use 5% (at most) of
>> Mathematicas total ability.  LoL, if only everyone would use the same 5%.
>> If you want us to be able to sell it, you have to provide training for
>> free
>> so we can get started solving engineering problems prior to purchase.
>> Combine this with a 60 day trial and you could save a lot of WRI
>> development
>> dollars on bells and whistles that won't increase sales. Help us help you!
>> Stop trying to treat sales tools as a profit center!
> ---
> Murray Eisenberg                                    murray at
> Mathematics & Statistics Dept.
> Lederle Graduate Research Tower            phone 413 549-1020 (H)
> University of Massachusetts                               413 545-2838 (W)
> 710 North Pleasant Street                         fax   413 545-1801
> Amherst, MA 01003-9305

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