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Seminar: The language of math

February 14, 2011

How many students walk away from taking higher level mathematics courses because they cannot understand the language used by instructor’s in the classroom? Students are more than capable of learning math, but if their understanding of the mathematical context differs from that of the instructor, these differences can lead to poor grades and discouragement to take college math courses. Much of what is said and written in math courses assumes that students understand the linguistic and logical conventions, says Susanna Epp, the Vincent de Professor of Mathematical Sciences at DePaul University.

Epp will present a seminar at Arizona State University to discuss the problems that result from this assumption, and how these problems can be addressed in her talk “Linguistic Issues in College Mathematics Courses.” The talk will begin at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Physical Science Center, F-wing, room 101 (PSF 101).

Kyeong Hah Roh, assistant professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at ASU, first met Epp at the 2008 International Commission on Mathematical Instruction conference in Taiwan. MAT 300: Mathematical Structures is the first college math course that students take, which involves logic and emphasis on writing proofs, that present the problem with linguistics, says Roh. If students are not taught the fundamentals of linguistic and logical understanding in mathematics, it is a constant uphill struggle to successfully complete this course and move forward to other higher level math courses.

Roh’s current research is in the design of a research-based curriculum for real analysis which is being funded by the National Science Foundation’s Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement Program (CCLI). The overall goals of her research in mathematics education are to better understand the obstacles of undergraduate students in learning abstract mathematics, and to use that knowledge to develop educational innovations to bridge the gaps between lower and upper division college mathematics courses.

MAT 300 is the make-it or break-it course for potential math majors and minors at ASU, says Tracey Hayes, assistant director for undergraduate academic services in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. If students cannot make it through this course, many decide to turn their backs on math and the important future it offers. Regardless of the degree program, mathematics is vital to the success of today’s students. Instructors who are better prepared to teach the basics to their students in these transition courses will help pave the way for tomorrow’s success.

This colloquia series is sponsored by the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Science. It is free and open to the public. An abstract and more information on Epp and her research are online at

For more information on this and other colloquia presented by the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences visit or contact 480-965-9792.

Caleen Canady,
School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences