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TMCNet:  UTPB math department batting a thousand

[February 04, 2013]

UTPB math department batting a thousand

Feb 04, 2013 (Odessa American - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- If (Professor Chris Hiatt) is an expert on solving theoretical proofs, then (the 11 students in his class at UTPB) will leave with a firm grasp on mathematical reasoning.


"We want to prove something has absolute value, but how is absolute defined " Hiatt, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, said. The "if A, then B" statements were up for discussion Thursday.

He is a magician at the chalkboard designing proofs -- as a review for all, it begins with a conjecture or the answer, and then it must be proven step by step to explain how that answer was achieved.

On this particular Thursday on the third floor of the Mesa Building, Hiatt goes over direct proofs, proof by cases and proof by contradiction. Eleven students in the "Mathematical Reasoning" course rotated through watching Hiatt answer a proof at the front of class and working in groups to construct the answer at the board.

Hiatt came to UTPB in 2007 after earning his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Southern California. He worked alongside colleagues in the math department to develop a master's degree in mathematics and obtained a grant so students can attend school for free. The first graduates completed the program in August 2012.

Students are coming into Hiatt's class from calculus and computational math. He loves to teach the reasoning course (it's his fourth time) because it's a transitional course into more advanced areas.

"It's one of my favorite classes to teach. The class teaches the logic, and that is the foundation. You need to know the logic before you do anything. It's needed in other places such as philosophy and music. It's a good foundation in a lot of different areas," he said.

Student David Krause is nearing completion of his degree in computer science at UTPB. He is a professional graphic designer and designs websites, so he's returned to school for further training.

Krause's background strays from the most logical path of a student in the math department at UTPB. Krause actually holds a master's degree in fine arts and even worked as an adjunct professor in that department at UTPB.

Learning the logic and mathematical process will definitely translate into his profession, Krause said.

"Conceptualizing the logic involved ... it's pretty critical," he said.

Hiatt says he loves being involved in the "development of student's minds and helping them to get onto their career path, encouraging them and being there to help them. College is a time of transition for everyone and to be involved in their lives during that time is really great." The class synopsis states that students will learn the logic methods of proof, set theory, relations, functions, cardinality, algebraic properties of the real, rational and integer number systems.

If that sounds like a foreign language, Hiatt did insert some humor that translates among the mathematician and the layperson alike.

He flipped the lights off and brought up YouTube.com on the projection screen, pressing play on a 2-minute clip by Abbott and Costello in the 1946 film "A Little Giant." Abbott tries his darnedest to prove to Costello that seven multiplied by 13 is 28, 28 divided by 13 equals seven and seven 13s added together equals 28. The comedy continues as Costello is somehow always able to end on 28 as the answer.

A short video is played before all of Hiatt's classes. "It just breaks the ice and gives the students an incentive to come to class on time," he said.

The Abbott and Costello shtick is similar to the subject at hand that day.

"If you start an English paper with the first and last paragraph, I could give it to 10 different people and we'd get 10 different ways to get there," Hiatt said.

But, like English, in math the devil is in the details. If the math proof is punctuated incorrectly, for example, it won't shake out in the end.

"You have to be careful. Did my sentence make sense Or did I make a miracle occur It's tempting because you know the end, but it has to be correct," Hiatt said. The students chime in, without raising their hands. There's nothing on the walls in the class to distract students, just an invalid map of Europe near the door.

Though there's always a little room to lighten the mood here and there in Hiatt's class.

Referring to a cartoon that's stuck to his office door, Hiatt relays it to the class: "i says to pi 'be rationale,' and pi says to i, 'get real.'" If need be, look online for the meaning of the punch line.

"I like that one. It's pretty funny," he said.

His math students end class by turning in their homework and with some parting words: Follow your nose, that's how you get to the end, Hiatt said.

--Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.

___ (c)2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) Visit the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) at www.oaoa.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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