GST 1510: History and Concepts of Mathematics

Time & Place: Wednesday, 6-8:45 p.m., 0334 Cohn.

Instructor’s Work Address: Moti Nissani, Interdisciplinary Studies Program, 2nd floor, 5700 Cass, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202

Home Address: 28645 Briar Hill, Farmington Hills, MI 48336


Tel.: 248.427.1957 (h) (12 p.m. every day<calling hours<10 p.m every day)

Internet Homepage:

Class Internet Address: :

Office hours: By appointment.

Materials: TI-36X solar calculator (must be brought to every session of this class).

Text: Coursepack (mandatory, $5). Note: my approach is based on explaining principles on the chalkboard in class, on you writing them down in your Math Principles Folder (see below), followed by a concrete illustration. Supplementary sources such as the internet or books are recommended but not required.

Internet: By now, the internet—if you know how to use it—is just as good a resource as any math textbook you might purchase on your own. Indeed, some of the best instructional material, nowadays, is on the internet—for free:

Sample MPE with Answers:

The Math Forum Home Page:

Dave's Math Tables:

Math World (for mathematicians, but still worth visiting):

Measurement Units Translation:

But perhaps even more important and useful is a simple search of whatever you are doing at the moment. If you have Netscape, for instance, and are tackling a concept, you can do so by going to the address on top and typing the concept in quotes, e.g., "greatest common divisor"

Grading: Your grade will be based on:

Course Objectives

Instructional Philosophy

The instructional approach—possibly for the first time in your career—will stress comprehension, not memorization of dates, names, formulas and computational routines. Although we will occasionally have formal lectures, for the most part we will tackle our subject in a somewhat unconventional way—by solving problems and by exploring their underlying principles. The key to your success will not be buying and reading $100 texts—you have done that before—but attending all classes, joining a study group, doing all assignments, and working as hard as you can in and out of class.

You are almost certainly unaccustomed to this approach, so it (and I) might seem odd for a while. But, I can assure you, it works. So please suspend disbelief for one term, think it possible that math is fun and that it can be taught in ways that you have never experienced before, and try to enjoy this class!

A Word of Advice

To do well in this class, try to discard any negative opinions you might have about numbers and figures. Approach the subject with a "can do" attitude. Form a study group. Think and live math for one term. Do your assignments diligently. Attend all sessions and come prepared for class. Ask questions whenever you don't understand anything: don't be inhibited, you are among fellow strugglers. Take an active part in class discussions. If you follow this advice, by late April you are almost certain to know and understand math better than ever before. The most important thing for you to remember is this: The harder you work, the more likely you are to pass the MPE.

Another critically important factor is English proficiency. To pass the MPE, your reading comprehension must be pretty good. If it isn’t, drop the class for now, read fifty children classics, take English classes, take and pass the English Proficiency Examination, and only then re-register for this class. To help you make this decision, this class will start with a brief English comprehension diagnostic test.

MPE Information

The Math Proficiency Examination (MPE) lasts 90 minutes and consists of 45 multiple choice questions. The MPE is administered by WSU's testing service (313-577-3400). Calculators are permitted (e.g., TI-36X solar calculator—about $17 at Target). We shall all take this test collectively at the end of this term. To take the test, students must pre-register at the begining of the term and bring a picture ID, student ID, and calculator to the test.

Passing score is 44.4%. Let's explore the meaning of this. 47% of 45 = 21; that is, you need to answer correctly 21 questions to pass this test. Let's say you don't know what they are talking about in 20 questions, so you simply guess the answers. With four answers to each question, this would net you, on average, 5 correct questions. To pass, you need 16 more correct answers out of the 25 questions that you are familiar with. But let's play it safe and say that only two of your guesses were correct. You now need to answer correctly 19 out of the 25 familiar questions to pass. So, if you WORK VERY VERY HARD, and if you read plenty of books when you were a child, chances are that you WILL pass the MPE. Another important lesson from these calculations is this: You don't need to know all the material that would appear on the test; if you know well about half, you would comfortably pass.

We can learn something from the experience of other ISP students. Of the 10 people in my one before last class who attended all (or almost all) sessions and who worked hard, eight passed and two failed. On the other hand, only one person out of the four with patchy attendance and homework record passed the MPE.

In my last class, only 45% passed. The scores were: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 27, 27, 28, 32. The lowest three tried very hard and still failed. They were, and are, unlikely to pass this test, no matter what they do—their best hope of meeting the MPE requirement is taking MAT 0991. The next two had a patchy attendance and work record. Had they worked harder, they might have passed. The 20 score was definitely avoidable with a bit more work. The next two (21, 27) did not over-exert themselves, but nonetheless did study and attend enough to improve considerably in one semester. The next two (27, 28) performed at chance level at the beginning of the class, but they are both readers, they worked hard, enjoyed math, and attended all classes. The top scorer might have just passed without taking the class. The class helped to improve his potential score by about 50%.

To give yourself every chance of passing, you may wish to avail yourself of the free private tutor attached to this class.

If all fails, and only after you have flunked the MPE twice, you can still graduate from Wayne State. In that case, you will need to take and pass the not-for-credit class MAT O910. For example, a student of mine who failed the MPE six times has just comfortably passed MAT 0910. So, if there is a will, there is a way!

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