SCI 199Y: Random Walks and Mathematical Discovery (1996-97)

Instructor: Professor Jeffrey Rosenthal (contact me, phone (416) 978-4594)

Time: Wednesdays, 2:00 to 4:00 pm, Sidney Smith Hall room 539 (basement).

Prerequisites: None. (First-year students only, maximum enrollment 20.)

Random walks are a fun, exciting, and intriguing topic in probability theory. The simplest random walk involves repeatedly making $1 bets, and asking such questions as: Will you eventually go broke? What is the probability that you will get rich first? What is the probability that you can keep playing forever? It also considers philosophical questions such as, what is the difference between "having probability 0" and "impossible"?

This course will use random walks as a backdrop to examining a variety of issues in the learning of new mathematics, such as: How do people learn mathematics? Why do some learn quicker than others? What is "math anxiety"? How is mathematics best taught? Are alternative teaching methods better than standard lectures? Do issues of gender and race come into play? How do mathematical geniuses think about mathematics?

To succeed in this course, it is NOT necessary to be good at mathematics. Rather, it is important to be able to discuss and analyze your experiences (both good and bad) as a mathematics student.

Some class handouts (in pdf format):