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Brian Wynne = (awesome)^n

A calculus syllabus is a calculus syllabus is a calculus syllabus. No matter where it’s taught, in the end the material is the same. Because of that, math classes tend to be defined by the professor.

Enter Brian Wynne—a young, nearly fresh-out-of-graduate-school doctor of mathematics who sports a kind of nerdy approachableness. He is the type of instructor who says things like, “The good times are rolling!” when a student shares her understanding of differential equations out loud; or: “This isn’t rocket science! Well, actually, it is rocket science, but it’s not that hard.”

Wynne is the kind of professor who has fun teaching and talking math. And it’s contagious. A group of former students, for instance, decided to pay homage to him by publishing a Facebook fan page titled “Brian Wynne=(awesome)^n.” If you don’t get the joke, you haven’t taken a math class with him yet.

His humor and general playfulness is part fun and part strategy. Math can be heavy, which is why WynneBrian Wynne pull quote keeps the atmosphere light, informal--joyful, even. If the mood is strategically playful, the instruction itself is intentionally methodic.

Wynne first introduces a new idea and technique. Today, it’s differential equations. "A differential equation is an equation involving the derivatives of a function. They are of great importance in the sciences, where they are used to describe how physical systems change over time,” he explains. "Today we'll see how the calculus we've learned this semester can be used to analyze differential equations."

Next, he talks about real world applications. Some examples: It can be a good model for population growth, or predicting bacteria growth in a lab.

Then, he works on problems. He tries to keep the tasks manageable, even when the math sprawls in a way that can intimidate some of the most gifted math students in class. Knee deep into differentiating, Wynne stops before he tackles the second part of the equation with the class. “OK, now what you have to do here is steel yourself.” A student asks what that means. “It means you need to prepare, to become strong.”

 


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