MAT 331: Mathematical Problem Solving
with Computers

Fall 2002

Instructor: Prof. Suzanne Hruska Office hours: TBA
Office: Math Tower 3-114
Office Phone: 632-8261

Class Meetings:
MWF 11:35-12:30, room S-235 of the Math Tower.

General Information:
This course serves as an introduction to computing for the math student. After a general introduction to the use of the computers, including use of email and the world-wide-web, we will turn to more mathematical problems. We will try to keep the emphasis in this course on the ``problem solving'' portion of the title: we will take a series of problems and try to find solutions (or approximate solutions), keeping in mind that we have access to computers. The discussion of the problems and development of necessary mathematics will be done in the classroom, and then we will turn to the computers to explore and work out the solutions.

We will use the math computer lab in S-235 of the math tower; this lab contains 30 Sun workstations running Unix, as well as a number of PCs running Windows 2000. We will be using the Unix machines in class; however, much of the work can be done on other systems. We will rely heavily on Maple (a program that can do algebra, calculus, graphics, etc.), although if other tools are better suited to the task, we may make use of them. No previous experience with computers is needed. Maple is available for most platforms (Windows, Macintosh, Unix, etc.); student version of Maple can be purchased from Waterloo Maple for $120. You can also use the campus modem pool to dial-in to the mathlab computers, or access them via the internet.

The text for this course is a set of notes written by Professors Sutherland and Simanca. These are available on the web page, and a printed version of much of it will be available in the undergraduate mathematics office on the plaza level of the math tower for a nominal price. You might find it useful to obtain a book about basic UNIX commands, and/or about Maple. Most of what you need will be covered in class, but it is often useful to have a reference at hand. Much material will be made available on the class web page, at

(20% of your grade)
There will be a number of exercises assigned. An ``exercise'' is like a homework assignment--something that you should be able to do in at most a few hours. Each exercise is worth 10 points, and can be handed in any time before its ``expiration date''. You can work on any number of problems per homework sheet (none to all). However, at the end of the semester, you must have handed in at least 2/5 of the exercises assigned. If you do more, I will pick your best grades. If you do less, the missing grades will be counted as zeros.

(70-75% of your grade)
There will be three projects assigned during the semester. A ``project'' is more like a term paper-- you will be expected to devote a significant amount of time to doing it, as well as taking care with the presentation. The expository and computational aspects of the project write-ups will be graded separately.

Working together on the projects is encouraged, although each student will be responsible for turning in a write-up of the problem and solution. This should contain a detailed description of the problem or topic, what means were used in solve it, and the solution. These write-ups should be produced by each student individually, and should be detailed enough so that someone who has not taken the class can read and understand them, and will believe the solution is correct. These write-ups are often acceptable for the mathematics writing requirement.

Reading/Class Participation:
(5-10% of your grade)
I expect you to read along in the text, and actively participate in classroom discussions. I will occasionally ask you to turn in questions/comments on the reading and course in general. The goal is for these questions to help stimulate classroom discussion.

Special Needs:
If you have any condition such as a physical or mental disability which will make it difficult for you to carry out the work as I have outlined it, please notify me in the first two weeks of the course so that appropriate arrangements can be made. I would urge that you contact the staff in the Disabled Student Services office (DSS), Room 133 Humanities, 632-6748/TDD. DSS will review your concerns and determine, with you, what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation of disability is confidential.

MAT 331 2002-09-02