Hello from MathILy-Er!by Shardul, 07 Jul 2017
Here’s a blog post from Willamette University at Salem, Oregon! I’m currently at MathILy-Er (which, in a manner typical of the general MathILy-Er environment, stands for “serious mathematics infused with levity, earlier”), a five-week intensive summer mathematics program, of which the second week is just getting over. MathILy-Er has a very different philosophy from many other summer math ‘camps’—the distinction between ‘camp’ and ‘program’ is apparently a significant one, at least technically—and follows a very free and open approach in letting students discover mathematics as they explore and toy around. In fact, there are no lectures, no individual problem sets, no spans of time in which only one person speaks for more than five minutes, and no textbooks or external resources. We collectively do mathematics with prods from the instructors just like real-world free markets don’t find optimal equilibriums without appropriate ‘prods’ from the government. (Bad analogy, I know.) Yes, you guessed it, this is yet another instance of that discovery-based education thing that I keep talking about, and no, this is not the blog post in which I go into it at length. I promise I will at some point.
I’m certainly enjoying MathILy-Er with 44 hours of math and at least 13 hours of table tennis/Frisbee/board games/card games/… every week; we’re just finishing the so-called “Root Class” which lets us brush up our collaboration and proof-writing skills and introduces us to key concepts we will use later in more specific and in-depth “Chaos” and “Branch” classes in the following weeks. MathILy-Er focuses to a large extent on discrete mathematics, so Root covered basic graph theory, game theory, combinatorial counting (fun stuff), and the likes; some Chaos classes I might take are “Markov Chains”, “A Tour of Turing”, and “Cayley graphs” (whatever those are). Apart from math, significant things I have learned include forehand-throwing a Frisbee, the basics of SageMath, meditation on homotopy embedding, and the frustrations of customer care (a story I will narrate in a few days).
Interesting coincidence about SageMath: a few weeks before MathILy-Er, USAMTS finally started with the prizes, and since I had won bronze this year, I was eligible for two books of my selection from their catalog, the annual USAMTS T-shirt, and one-year subscriptions to Mathematica and WolframAlpha Pro. (As you might have guessed, Wolfram Research is a USAMTS sponsor.) The latter two prizes are pretty heavy prizes for high-schoolers in my opinion; at least I don’t really know how to effectively use my one-year subscription, though I have some idea thanks to the ever-helpful Math.SE community. Anyway, so I downloaded and installed Mathematica—a hefty 6 GB—only to find that MathILy-Er recommended that we bring Sage to the program—another 5 GB <sigh>. Fortunately Sage can leach off Mathematica by passing objects to the Mathematica kernel through Sage and returning the results, so I’m not being terribly inconvenienced. Although I don’t really need such powerful mathematical tools, at least not yet. Small ironies.
I’ll probably write a few more times from MathILy-Er, and then I’ll be heading to Dublin, Ireland, for IOL 2017 with almost no gap in between. I would have loved to write about my linguistics preparation in as much depth as I can about other things but most of it is internal team material—tests, designed problems, and the like—so I’ll have to abstain and hope that I don’t come across as slacking off in the face of an international event (really, I am preparing). That’s all for now!