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SPIRAL: Students and Professors InteRacting and Learning


Hoping to increase enthusiasm for mathematics at our university, last year, we began to SPIRAL.  SPIRAL stands for Students and Professors InteRacting And Learning.    Math SPIRAL is a biweekly event that involves a 15 to 20 minute presentation or activity followed by about 30 minutes of informal time to discuss the ideas and to socialize.  We wanted our topics to be interesting enough for senior math majors, but also accessible for the general student with casual curiosity about mathematics.  In this way, we engage the students at a non-intimidating level.  In fact, we believe the involvement of freshmen through seniors and the consistent involvement of faculty is what is so appealing about this format.


For example, for a Pythagorean Theorem day, faculty asked students in advance to present different proofs, working with some of them so that they felt confident while others selected their favorite proof to present on their own.  We had freshmen through seniors present. Math Jeopardy, our end-of-the year activity, was born out some of the students’ presentation for an upper division math class. 


What was especially exhilarating was the faculty involvement.  We had faculty from Criminal Justice, Biology, Physics, and Business join us throughout the year.  We typically had about four to five math professors and anywhere from five to 25 students at each Math SPIRAL.  In fact, one of the Jeopardy categories was about professors in the math department!


Here is a list of some of our activities:

  • “The RRRs:  Rectangles, Reciprocals, Roots, and SPIRALs.” 
  • “How to catch a cheater in baseball” an introduction to SABRmetrics given by a senior math major.
  • Different proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. 
  • Tic-tac-toe on different surfaces.  We made this a Fat Tuesday event and had a “torus” king cake for the students.
  • Pi theme for the week of Pi day.  A faculty member presented a proof that pi was irrational using no more than Calculus II material.  Additionally, a student gave a talk about the area and circumference of a circle using a trig identity from Calculus I.
  • “Measuring carbon footprints” for Math Awareness Month.  A biologist from another university gave a presentation on measuring a university’s carbon footprint and showed how students could work in collaboration on collecting this information.
  • Puzzles and Tricks.  Students worked in groups on math puzzles.
  • Math Jeopardy-students made a beamer presentation. 



We hope that you will consider spinning your own Math SPIRAL.


Contact: Jennifer Franko Vasquez, The University of Scranton, frankoj2@scranton.edu

Stacey Muir, The University of Scranton, muellers2@scranton.edu


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