[OS X TeX] Latex for beginning math students

ADITYA D TRIVEDI atrivedi2 at student.gsu.edu
Tue Aug 24 20:44:16 EDT 2004

Alain Schremmer wrote:>


>I certainly don't mean for them to learn LaTeX but only to give them a 
>means of communicating their problems, such as they are, to their 
>teacher. It is a fact that they won't do it in class and not even face 
>to face in an office.

Let me start with saying that I did not comprehend your problem completely.

>Interestingly, though, many will agree to put it in writing but there 
>are two problems with this. One is that they think that they any sloppy 
>presentation will do, "You know what I mean". Even more interesting, at 
>least to me, is that, when I respond "No" they usually try again and 
>better. The second problem is that when I respond I find myself writing 
>stuff that I have written a million times. So, I tend to make it shorter 
>which is not good for the student currently at hand.

That is a common problem. In addition to other things might I suggest giving out a handout in the beginning of the class with a list of most common mistakes. Or a website perhaps. That might alleviate the problem a little.

>Even more to the point, these are students entering a Community College 
>but enrolled in what is tactfully called "remedial mathematics."

>While they all have access to computers to go on the web and do email, 
>the level of what one can ask them on day one is 0. Devoting a class to 
>use any software will achieve nothing. As for giving them a copy of a 
>manual, it is hopeless as they are usually also enrolled in so-called 
>"remedial English". The tool has to be "obvious" the way the Mac used to 
>be obvious. (Does anyone remember MacWrite as compared to WordStar and 
>the snickers that greeted the Mac, this "nice toy"?)

>The usual fare these students are given in "remedial math" is "show and 
>tell and drill". There is no attempt at helping them figure out why 
>things are the way they are. It is: "Now, don't bother to think, just do 
>as I say. See? It's easy!"


>The problem is that only so much can be done in class. What I am looking 
>for is a tool with which I can correspond with the students. For 
>instance, say a student adds two three digits numbers and makes a 
>mistake. Or, to take another example, say a student investigating the 
>behavior of a rational function near +3 "forgets" that the division has 
>to be done in ascending powers of h.


You have a tough problem. Maarten Sneep in his reply did mention some solutions. Paper and Pencil might be better. If you still want to try out alternate means, simple macros might help in a limited way.

One thing you can do is not show the preamble. You can have a personal script which calls the preamble, concatnates the user input, adds \end{document} and typesets it. This prevents typing anything in the worng place.

I ahve not used LyX so I am not sure how well it deals with personal macros. It is possible to write simple macros for doing separate tasks. If you can outline what needs to be done, the list can contibute in a conrete manner. One might be able to create applescript's which ask for user input. Suppose you want to typeset addition of numbers, a script will ask for the numbers and write the code for that.

The more automation you want, the tougher it will get.

>P. S.
>I am intrigued by Trivedi's comment that "specialized macros will need a 
>lot of maintenance". Could you elaborate?

Sure. First some background stuff. In my undergrad years, I used to work in IT Department. I havent seen a single software which need not need suport. Things I thought obvious were not shared by users.

Coming to LaTeX. I recently, worte a package to typset Actuarial Symbols (annuities, etc.). A much simpler problem than yours. I did not get it right in the first attempt. Only after testing them in different ways and used by other users, I was able to squash what I hope were the last bugs.

With your problem, your first solution will probably not be adequate. After seeing how your students respond, you will learn what is and is not effective. You will then have to modify the code. If things go well after a semester you will have something good and useful (or perhaps go back to pencil and paper). Donald Norman in Design of Everyday Things mentions that a new product in the market typically needs around 6 revision to get the design right.


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