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Syllabus for MTH 325 (Discrete Structures for Computer Science 2) Section 01 at Grand Valley State University, Fall 2015.

MTH 325: Discrete Structures for Computer Science 2 -- Fall 2015 Syllabus

Course Information

  • Meetings: MWF 9:00--9:50am in Mackinac Hall A-2-167.
  • Prerequisite: MTH 225.
  • Textbook: Applied Discrete Structures, March 2013 edition by Alan Doerr and Kenneth Levasseur. Available free online at
  • Computer requirements: You will need access to a portable computing device such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone for occasional in-class computer work. Ideally, you should bring your device with you to class each day unless this is a logistical issue. If you do not have access to such a device or cannot bring yours to class on a particular day, the Mathematics Department has loaner devices (Android tablets and Chromebooks) you can use, but you must give the professor at least 24 hours' notice if you intend to use one.
  • Software requirements: Each student will need to create an account on SageMath Cloud ( for programming activities and homework writeups. SageMath Cloud is a cloud-based computing platform and so no downloading or installation is necessary; accounts are free. Also, we will use Blackboard for announcements, posting content, and recording grades as well as email for frequent course communication; you will need access to a high-speed internet connection and an email account that you check regularly.

Instructor information

  • Instructor: Robert Talbert, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mathematics
  • Office: Mackinac Hall A-2-168
  • Instructor website:
  • How to contact Prof. Talbert: The best way to reach me is by email at I am also on Twitter at @RobertTalbert, on Google+ at, and on GitHub at My office phone is (616)331-8968 but be advised that I am frequently out of the office except during posted office hours.
  • Email policy: You can expect to receive a response to any email that you send within 24 hours, often much sooner, if it is sent during regular business hours (8am-5pm MTWRF). However please be aware that I typically do not check email between 7pm and 7am on any day, and often do not respond to email at all on the weekends in order to prioritize time with family. Therefore if you send an email during these times, you may not get a response until at least 12 hours later.
  • Office hours: 3:00--4:00pm MWF. If you need a consultation but cannot make office hours, you are free to st up consultations by appointment with me. Appointment consultations are typically 15 minutes in length. When visiting the office, please plan ahead and bring a list of specific questions you have in mind along with documentation of the work you have already tried. If you have not tried work on a question you are asking in office hours, I will ask you to come back later once you have worked.

Course Content and Learning Objectives

Overview of course

Discrete Structures for Computer Science is a two-semester sequence that gives a comprehensive introduction to concepts from mathematics that are foundational to computer science. MTH 325 is the second course of this sequence and focuses on five main content areas:

  • Relations: Abstracted sets that model relationships between concepts, that are at the foundation of databases, matching algorithms, and other common CS constructs.
  • Functions: Low-level mathematical models of processes that accept input and produce output, which form the foundation of computer programs and countless other CS concepts.
  • Recursion: A powerful and mysterious method of algorithm design in which a process is called in terms of itself, closely related to the concept of mathematical induction.
  • Graphs: A basic mathematical "data structure" that models objects in relation to each other, and the foundation of many sorting, searching, and other algorithms.
  • Trees: Another "data structure" that is related to graphs and has a myriad of uses in computer science for storing and accessing data.

The primary areas of focus in MTH 325, the prerequisite for this course, are sets, counting, logic, proof, and probability. Fluency with these topics, as evidence by a passing grade in MTH 325, will be assumed (with some occasional review). In particular, mathematical proof plays a strong role in MTH 325, and students are expected to be able to read, analyze, and construct proofs using direct proof, indirect proof, and proof by induction and to be fluent in the logical rules that undergird proofs.

In addition to attaining mastery in the content of the course as outlined above, a major goal of the course is for each student to learn to use computational thinking to solve problems. Computational thinking refers to an approach to problem solving using four stages:

  1. Decomposing a problem into smaller parts that can be solved easily;
  2. Pattern recognition among the parts of the problem that lead to insights about the main problem;
  3. Abstraction about the patterns that you see, in order to make conjectures about unifying solutions to the main problem; and
  4. Algorithm design for solutions that solve the main problem based on your abstractions.

Computational thinking is a concept that links mathematics and computer science, and it will be the main conceptual "glue" that holds the course together.

Learning objectives

A successful student in MTH 325 will, throughout the semester, demonstrate evidence that she or he has done all of the following. These are our foundational learning objectives and everything we do in the course points back to these:

  1. Students will recall and use mathematical terminology, theorems, rules, algorithms, and notation from the main content areas of the course correctly in all course work without syntactic, semantic, or logical error.
  2. Students will apply basic mathematical concepts from the main content areas of the course to solve both theoretical and practical problems.
  3. Students will analyze and construct correct and clear mathematical proofs using basic proof methods, with an emphasis on mathematical induction.
  4. Students will analyze and instantiate recursive mathematical processes and computer algorithms and describe the connections between induction proofs and recursive algorthms.
  5. Students will identify and describe connections between the mathematical content of the course (relations, functions, recursion, graphs, trees) and the elements of computer science (algorithms, data structures, programs).
  6. Students will use computers as a tool for engaging in computational thinking, particularly through the use of the Python programming language and the Sage computer algebra system.
  7. Students will learn new technical content independently and practice skills and behaviors connected with effective self-regulated learning.
  8. Students will be active, caring, and productive contributors to the class learning community.


Expectations for MTH 325 students

All students in MTH 325 are expected to agree to the following terms as part of the MTH 325 learning community:

  • To move through MTH 325 with an open-minded attitude toward mathematics and commit to making meaning of the ideas in discrete mathematics.
  • To strive for dep understanding, learn from failed attempts, formulate questions, work to see the big picture and flow of ideas, take intellectual risks, and share your thinking with others.
  • To come to class ready to actively engage in good spirits and in good humor, and to try to enjoy the intellectual challenges of the course.
  • To submit written work that is carefully crafted so that your thinking and modes of analysis are clearly expressed.
  • To make all submitted work to be your very best work ad best effort, and to start all non-timed work no later than one day before it is due.
  • To schedule between 6 and 10 hours per week outside of class meetings specifically devoted to purposeful work on assignments, activities, and time for thinking about MTH 325 (including office hours visits).
  • To maintain an up-to-date personal copy of the course calendar at all times during the semester and to consult this calendar on a daily basis to be aware of upcoming due dates; and to check GVSU email at least once per day for communications and course announcements; and to record all important communications in a trusted information system that is consulted at least 2-3 times per week.
  • To be "off the grid" for the entirety of each class meeting -- that is, to keep personal electronic devices turned off and stored out of sight -- except for times in class where connected devices are explicitly used for learning.
  • To abide by the GVSU Student Honor Code and to ask for clarification if you are not sure how the Honor Code applies to any particular item or activity associated with this class.

A sign of your agreement to these terms will come through a contract that will bear your physical signature, signed during the first week of class.

Fair Warning: This is not a lecture-oriented class or one in which mimicking prefabricated examples will lead you to success. You will be expected to work actively to construct your own understanding of the topics at hand, with the readily available help of the professor and your classmates. Many of the concepts you learn and problems you work will be new to you and ask you to stretch your thinking. You will experience frustration and failure before you experience understanding. This is part of the normal learning process. Your viability as a professional in the modern workforce depends on your ability to embrace this learning process and make it work for you. You are supported on all sides by the professor and your classmates; this is why we will frequently refer to our class as a "learning community". But no student is exempt from the process and the hard work it entails.

Expectations for the professor

Just as each student is held to expectations of behavior, you are entitled to hold me (Prof. Talbert) to the following expectations as well:

  • To work with students in a collaborative working relationship, with the goal of helping each student attain the learning goals she/he has set for themselves.
  • To engage with students at all times in a caring, enthusiastic, and positive manner.
  • To design learning experiences for pre-, in-, and post-class work that are interesting, meaningful, and lead students to learn something important.
  • To be accessible to students,through posted office hours, appointments, and other means.
  • To listen to student questions and concerns and give meaningful responses —- if not a direct answer, then an alternative line of questioning that leads the student to the right answer in a non-frustrating way.
  • To give regular opportunities for students to ask questions not only about course content but about the course itself, and to act upon constructive criticism.
  • To give significant feedback on all student work in a timely manner.
  • To carry out all course policies fairly and in accordance with this syllabus unless extreme circumstances say otherwise, and then he will be flexible and fair to the rest of the class.
  • To commit to getting to know each student on a personal level.
  • To commit to having fun in what we do.

Student Work in MTH 325

Overview of MTH 325 work and assessment

Your main goals in the course are to learn as much as you can about discrete mathematics, and to become fluent in computational thinking and its use in applying basic content to solve new problems. Part of my job in the course is to assess how well you are attaining these goals. The work you will do in the course does two things: First, your class work serves as opportunities to learn; second, the results of your work provide evidence of your mastery of course content and problem solving skills.

Your final course grade will indicate the level to which this mastery has been attained. You will earn your course grade by completing tasks that lead to certification in our five main content areas (relations, functions, recursion, graphs, trees) at different levels, as well as certification that you have been a productive member of the MTH 325 learning community. The higher the grade you wish to earn, the more tasks you will need to complete and the higher the levels of those tasks.

Each of the tasks is evaluated on the basis of whether it meets professionally acceptable standads of quality. None of the work you will do in the course has a numerical point value. Instead, each time you submit work, it will receive an evaluation of whether the work meets the appropriate standard or does not along with extensive feedback on the work itself if the standard is not met.

The specifications used to evaluate your work are given in detail in the separate document Specifications for Student Work in MTH 325. Please read this document carefully and review it before turning in work, so you can evaluate your own work before submission and make adjustments. We will use this document in class through the semester to do activities in which we will evaluate student work samples, to give you practice in working with the specifications.

Please note the following carefully:

  • Your work does not have to be error-free in order to meet the standards for acceptabilty. As detailed in the Specifications document, "acceptable" generally means that there are no significant errors present and that small errors are few in number.
  • You will receive multiple opportunities to revise and resubmit any work that is evaluated on the basis of mathematical correctness. This is our alternative to partial credit. In a points-based system, you get one chance to show your mastery of the material and you must accept the grade you get. Under our system, your work must attain to a high standard but you will receive multiple chances to meet the standard along with detailed feedback to guide you.

The next two subsections detail what it means to certify as a member of the MTH 325 learning community, and what it means to certify your mastery on course content.

Certifying as a member of the learning community

One of our main course goals is for each student to be an active, caring, and productive contributor to the class learning community. This involves doing your part to prepare well for class, contributing to group activities in class, taking the lead on occasion in those group activities, and doing other things in and outside of class to help others learn.

There are three kinds of work students do as preparation for class or as in-class work:

  • Guided Practice assignments are structured pre-class activities that are designed to lead you through initial contact with new material. These are to be done before class and are submitted prior to the class meeting via online forms. Then the first few minutes of the following class are spent discussing the solutions.
  • Homework A is homework that is done following the initial discussion of new material. These are 6-10 basic exercises designed to probe the essential ideas of a new topic and set us up for deeper in-class work. These are written up individually (on paper) and brought to class for group discussion. (There is also "Homework B"; keep reading.)
  • In the class meeting following the assignment of Homework A, students will be put into groups and assigned one of the Homework A problems to present at the board to the rest of the class. About 1/3 to 1/2 of class time each meeting is spent presenting and discussing Homework A problems.

Please see the course calendar for a schedule of Guided Practice and Homework A and to get a feel for how the course meetings flow on a daily basis.

All three of these items are assessed on a two-level rubric of either Pass or No Pass. A Pass is given to work that is complete, submitted on time, clearly presented, and shows a good-faith effort to be right on each item. Mathematical correctness is not one of the criteria for grading; in fact these items are intended specifically to give a safe space to make and learn from mistakes. Complete specifications for your work in these three activities are given in the Specifications document mentioned above.

Each student will need to certify that they have done acceptable work as members of the MTH 325 learning community. The following may be used as acceptable evidence for contributing to the MTH 325 Learning Community:

  • Earning a Pass rating on a Guided Practice assignment.
  • Submitting work on paper for a Homework A assignment and receiveing a Pass rating on it.
  • Being part of a group whose Homework A class presentation earns a Pass rating.
  • Being the presenter of a Homework A class presentation that earns a Pass rating.
  • Students can also propose individualized projects or activities that count toward Learning Community. Any activity that provides evidence that the students has contributed significantly to the learning processes of the other student in the class will be considered. Examples might include: creating video content for the course and posting to YouTube; writing software that other students can use for learning; organizing and leading group study sessions; and so on. These activities can be big or small, simple or complex. The only rules are that the activity must contribute evidence of contribution to the MTH 325 learning community, and that the activity must be proposed in advance so that the student and professor can negotiate fair and appropriate terms for what constitutes a "Pass" rating on the activity and how much the activity should count.

Certification can be at Level 1, indicating baseline acceptability as a learning community member; or at Level 2, indicating contributions and leadership above and beyond the minimum acceptable level. The requirements for certification at these levels are as follows:

To certify at this level: Do the following:
Level 1 Complete 50 total instances of Learning Community activities, including at least 15 Pass ratings on Guided Practice, 15 Pass ratings on individual Homework A, 10 Pass ratings on group presentations of Homework A, and one (1) Passing individual class presentation of Homework A.
Level 2 Complete 70 total instances of Learning Community activities, including at least 20 Pass ratings on Guided Practice, 20 Pass ratings on individual Homework A, 15 Pass ratings on group presentations of Homework A, and two (2) Passing individual class presentations of Homework A.

Being the lead presenter on your group's Homework A presentation counts as two activities: being part of the group, and being the presenter.

Students who complete 90 or more instances of Learning Community activities will be awarded an extra token (see below).

Certification and Recertification on course content

At various points in the semester you will be asked to certify your mastery of the content by completing what we call learning bundles. There are five learning bundles, one for each main topic in the course (relations, functions, recursion, graphs, trees). Additionally, you may certify on each bundle at two skill levels: Level 1 certification indicates that you have attained baseline competency in the topic, while Level 2 certification requires mastery of more complex and higher-order tasks above and beyond those in Level 1.

To earn certification in a bundle, students must do a combination of the following:

  • Earn a Pass rating on a bundle assessment, which is a collection of problems worked out during an in-class assessment period.
  • Complete a certain number of homework problems from a set called Homework B. These are homework (like Homework A that is done on a daily basis) except they are at a higher level of thinking, they are less frequent, and they are not presented or discussed in class. Each bundle's Homework B set is different, and the requirements for certification will be clearly indicated on each one.
  • Complete items from a list of activities known as Big Picture. These items are highly varied and you will be allowed to pick activities that you find meaningful and enjoyable. They are add-ons to the work on bundle assessments and Homework B that will ask you to reflect on your learning process, what you are learning from failure, the connections between math and computer science, and so on.

The requirements for certification on a learning bundle are as follows:

To certify at this level: Do the following:
Level 1
  • Attain Pass rating on Level 1 bundle assessment; and
  • Satisfy the Level 1 requirements on the bundle's Homework B set.
Level 2
  • Attain Pass rating on Level 1 bundle assessment; and
  • Attain Pass rating on Level 2 bundle assessment; and
  • Satisfy the Level 2 requirements on the bundle's Homework B set; and
  • Complete at least one Big Picture item for the bundle.

Update: On October 15, the class voted to amend the syllabus so that Big Picture items are no longer required for Level 2. Instead, each Big Picture item will earn 2 tokens.

The class sessions that are scheduled for certification assessments are cumulative in the sense that new versions of each previous certification assessment will be available in case a student failed to certify on previous attempts. For example, during the first assessment session, students may take the Sets Level 1 and Sets Level 2 certification. If a student passes Sets Level 1 but not Sets Level 2, then she may retake Sets Level 2 at the second session, which will feature not only Sets Levels 1 and 2 but also Counting Levels 1 and 2. In this way, each certification assessment can be attempted multiple times until a Pass rating is earned. However, note: bundle certification assessments can only be attempted twice (that is, an initial attempt plus one reattempt) without cost; third and subsequent attempts require the spending of one token (below).

Please note that subsequent versions of certification assessments will be new versions, not identical copies, of the previous versions. The tasks that are assessed on each certification assessment are found in the Certification Tasks document posted on Blackboard.

Additionally, students will need to recertify their mastery on some of the bundles to ensure that they have retained their original mastery on course topics through the semester. Recertification is done via in-class assessments held during the last week of the semester and during the final exam period. Each bundle will have a recertification assessment at each level; these are shortened versions of the original certification assessments. Note in particular that MTH 325 does not have a final exam; the final exam period is merely a 100-minute session for those students who need recertification. Note also that there are no homework or Big Picture requirements for recertification; all one needs to recertify on a bundle at a particular level is to earn a Pass rating on that bundle/level's recertification assessment.

Note that the Trees bundle will not require recertification because of how late in the semester it will appear. Only initial certification is required for this bundle.

Revision of work

Any item that is assessed on the basis of mathematical correctness can be re-done if needed until an acceptable level of quality is reached. Those items are certification assessments, recertifications, Homework B, and Big Picture items. The standards for acceptability for all course work are detailed in the Specifications for Student Work document.

Revision and resubmission works as follows:

  • For certification and recertification assessmemts, the work is not revised but rather new versions of the assessments are done in class. Each assessment will have at least two, usually more, sessions in which new versions can be done.
  • Homework B and Big Picture items can be revised and resubmitted if the work is not done at an acceptable level. Homework B and Big Picture items are assessed on a three-level scale: Pass, Repeat, and Repeat+. Homework B that earns a Repeat or Repeat+ mark can be redone as often as needed, with two provisions: (1) only one revision per week can be submitted, and (2) it costs one token (see below) to revise work given a Repeat mark.

Guided Practice, Homework A, and class presentations may not be revised (because these are not assessed on correctness but rather completeness, clarity, and effort).

Limitation on certification attempts: Each bundle assessment may be attempted twice without penalty. This is to encourage each student to take the bundle assessments as seriously as possible and to study hard for each one. Third and subsequent bundle assessments may be taken by spending a token (below).


To give students flexibility in the work in the course, each student begins the semester with five tokens (vritual currency) which can be "cashed in" for modifications to various deadlines and class policies. Tokens may be used for the following:

Use Tokens required
24-hour deadline extension on a Homework B assignment or Big Picture item (usable only once per assignment; may not be "stacked") 1
Resubmission of Homework B or Big Picture item rated at Repeat 1
Third or subequent attempt on a bundle assessment 1
"Free" Pass on a single Homework A or Guided Practice 2
"Free" Pass on an individual Homework A presentation 4
Submission of Homework B or Big Picture item more than 24 hours past deadline (but no more than one week past deadline) 5

Other uses for tokens suggested by students will always be considered.

Basis for Grading

Basic grading system

All of the aforementioned work is evaluated without points, using a Pass/No Pass, Pass/Repeat, or Pass/Repeat+/Repeat scale. To earn a particular course grade, you must earn Pass ratings on a certain number of level of course tasks. Generally speaking, the higher the grade you wish to earn, the more tasks and the more difficult those tasks you must complete at a Pass level.

Specifically, here are the requirements for grades of C, B, and A:

  • To earn a grade of C, which is considered baseline competency in MTH 325:
    • Certify at Level 1 on all five bundles; and
    • Recertify at Level 1 on the first four bundles (all except Probability); and
    • Certify at Level 1 in Learning Community.
  • To earn a grade of B:
    • Certify at Level 1 on all five bundles; and
    • Recertify at Level 1 on the first four bundles (all except Trees); and
    • Certify at Level 2 on any two (2) bundles of your choice; and
    • Recertify at Level 2 on those two bundles; and
    • Certify at Level 2 in Learning Community.
  • To earn a grade of A:
    • Certify at Level 1 on all five bundles; and
    • Recertify at Level 1 on the first four bundles (all except Trees); and
    • Certify at Level 2 on any four (4) bundles; and
    • Recertify at Level 2 on any three (3) of those bundles; and
    • Certify at Level 2 in Learning Community.

Put differently:

  • To earn a B in the course, satisfy all the requirements for a C, plus Level 2 certification and recertification on two (2) bundles, and earn Level 2 in Learning Community.
  • To earn an A in the course, satisfy all the requirements for a B, plus Level 2 certification on two (2) more bundles for a total of four (4) and Level 2 recertification on one (1) more bundle for a total of three (3).

The conditions for grades lower than a C are as follows:

  • To earn a grade of D: Certify at Level 1 on any three (3) bundles of your choice; recertify at Level 1 on any two (2) of those three bundles; and certify at Level 1 in Learning Community.
  • A grade of F is awarded if any one of the requirements for a D is not met. In particular, students who do not certify at Level 1 in Learning Community automatically earn an F in the coure, regardless of any other work in the course.

Use of the Trees bundle: There is no recertification offered on the Trees bundle. Therefore this bundle may not be used as an "elective" learning bundle for grades of C or B.

Grading system for plus/minus grades

Plus/minus grades are awarded for completing requirements at a level that falls in between the basic letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F. The table below gives the requirements for all possibl course grades including plus/minus grades:

Grade L1 cert L1 recert L2 cert L2 recert Learning Community level
A 5 4 4 3 2
A- 5 4 3 3 2
B+ 5 4 3 2 2
B 5 4 2 2 2
B- 5 4 2 1 2
C+ 5 4 1 1 1
C 5 4 0 0 1
C- 4 3 0 0 1
D+ 3 3 0 0 1
D 3 2 0 0 1

Note that GVSU does not award grades of A+ or D-.

Notes about this grading system

Our grading system has several distinct advantages for you, the student:

  • This grading system puts you in control of your grade. You begin the course by choosing the grade toward which you would like to work and the proceeding to work towards it, rather than doing all the work and hoping for the grade you want.
  • The grading system gives you flexibility over the work that you do. For example, student who only want to earn a B in the course do not have to complete every single item that is assigned.
  • You are always able to know exactly where you stand in the course, simply by counting the number of certifications you have earned and looking up your progress in the charts above.
  • Your course grade never drops --- it only goes up. Once you have attained a particular grade level, your course grade cannot go below that level again no matter what you do or don't do. It's not uncommon for students in this system to earn the grade they want well before the end of the semester, and then their only responsibilities in the course are to recertify in learning bundles during the last week of classes.
  • Anything that is assessed on correctness can be redone multiple times. This promotes higher academic standards with a substantial safety net for students, as well as a "growth mindset" rather than a "one-and-done" approach to assessment.
  • Instead of partial credit on your work, you receive large amounts of substantive feedback. This tends to be more helpful for students, has a faster turnaround time, and promotes professor-student interactions based on improving your work rather than "point-grubbing".
  • In the end, your course grade is not the result of complex statistical calculations but a simple correspondence between the grade and the quantity and quality of the evidence of mastery you present.

A recent student commented about this grading system: ​“This class was not the easiest one that I had this semester, but it was definitely the least stressful because of the grading system.”​ I hope that it promotes a "client-consultant" relationship between you and me, in which we are working together to create a learning experience for you that is positive and productive.

The main downside of this system is that it can be complicated. Most students find it to be so, at first -- but as the semester unfolds, the logic of the grading system becomes much more evident. I will provide you with tools to track your progress through the course to help make it easier. And if you have any questions or concerns about the system, please let me know.

Other Course Policies

Policy on student communication responsibilities: Communication in the course takes place through three primary means: the course calendar, Blackboard announcements, and GVSU email.

  • All deadlines and important dates are loaded onto the course calendar, which is a Google Calendar and embedded into the course Blackboard site. No reminders of due dates, deadlines, and other dates will necessarily be given in class or through email. Rather, each student is responsible for consulting the class calendar on a regular basis -- at least once daily -- to maintain a heads-up as to items that are coming due. Changes to the class calendar are likely to happen during the semester; these will be announced well in advance.
  • Text-based communications about announcements and other items will be done through the course Blackboard site on the Announcements page. Course announcements are mirrored through email sent to students' GVSU email accounts. Students are responsible for checking their GVSU email at least once daily for announcements and for ensuring that Blackboard announcements are being properly sent to their GVSU email addresses. Please note that no communication will take place through non-GVSU email accounts and I will not respond to any emails sent from such accounts.
  • Note that most Blackboard announcements will be set to expire after one week of posting. Therefore if an announcement is posted, it is the student's responsibility to make a note of the announcement in a trusted information system that can be referred to later once the announcement is gone.

Each student is responsible for communicating responsibly with the professor and other students and for keeping of all information flowing through the course.

Important dates: Please note these important calendar items (which are included on the course calendar):

  • September 4: 100% tuition refund deadline (5pm EDT).
  • September 6--8: Labor Day recess, no class on Monday Sept 7.
  • September 25: 75% tuition refund deadline.
  • October 2: Prof. Talbert out of town; class will meet with guest instructor.
  • October 7--9: Prof. Talbert out of town; class will meet with guest instructor.
  • November 25--29: Thanksgiving Recess, no classes on Wednesday Nov 25 or Friday Nov 27.
  • December 12: Last day of classes.
  • December 15 (Tuesday): Final exam session, 8:00--9:50am.
  • December 24: Course grades avaialable to students.

Attendance and makeup policy: Missing a class meeting means that you are forfeiting your involvement in class activities, particularly Homework A presentations. If you know you are going to miss class, you may give your Homework A to another student to turn in for you; but you may not receive a makeup on presentations of Homework A, and you may not submit Homework A after class. Homework A writeups also are not accepted if the student forgets to bring them to class. Since the requirements for Learning Community certification are quite flexible, missing a few class meetings should not affect your grade since you can pick up the slack through other activities. Therefore makeups of class work are not offered. However, if you have missed several classes due to illness or other life situations and are afraid it is adversely affecting your grade, please contact me and I will be happy to discuss options with you.

Late submission policy: Deadlines on graded items will be enforced. You may purchase a 24­-hour extension on some items through the use of a token. Otherwise no late submissions will be accepted unless you have received approval prior to the deadline or can demonstrate that the lateness was unavoidable. Work that is late that does not have instructor approval is counted as a non­submission with no opportunity to revise.

Class cancellation policy: Class cancellations will be announced as soon as possible through email and through Blackboard. You will be responsible for monitoring both email and Blackboard for instructions. Note that cancellations of class meetings need not mean that class activities are cancelled; in some cases we may move the meeting online so that we don't lose a day. Again, monitor your email and Blackboard for instructions in such cases.

Inclement weather policy: In case inclement weather makes it difficult or dangerous to attend class, you may opt not to attend; if missing class does not affect your grade significantly (see "Attendance and Makeup Policy") then you can simply miss class. Otherwise please contact me for further discussion. Note that the decision not to attend class because of weather does not automatically entitle a student to a makeup of missed work.

Significantly incomplete work policy: Work that is submitted that contains (in the professor’s best professional judgment) significant omissions, or work that does not represent a good­-faith effort at completion will be marked as a non­submission. Unless the student submits complete work before the 24­-hour deadline extension, the work will be treated as a non­submission without the possibility of revision.

Academic honesty: Academically honest work by a student is work that authentically reflects the student’s understandings, however incomplete, of the work being done. Grand Valley State University’s academic honesty­ and integrity policy is found in Section 3.1 of the GVSU Student Code, found here: Each student has the responsibility for being familiar with this policy and abiding by it. Please note that violations of the Student Code will be pursued vigorously. The minimum penalty for plagiarism or inappropriate collaboration is a non-Passing mark on the affected assignment and an elimination of any further chances to revise the work. In especially egregious cases, the penalty can be significantly more severe, up to and including automatic failure of the course and possible suspension from GVSU. In addition, all violations of academic integrity will be reported to the Dean of Students and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Collaboration: Each item of work has different parameters for the amount of collaboration that is allowed.

  • Guided Practice and Homework A: You are allowed to collaborate with others, but the work you submit must reflect your own ideas (and struggles). Remember that correctness is not a grading criterion here, so you have nothing to gain from copying others' work. If it is evident that you have copied another person's work or allowed your work to be copied you will be in violation of the GVSU Student Code (above).
  • Homework B and Big Picture activities: You are allowed to consult other print or online resources, and you are allowed to use technology (in fact some of these activities will require it). But you are not allowed to share significant ideas with other people except the professor. Evidence of idea-sharing will be treated as a violation of the Student Code (above).
  • Learning bundle certifications: No collaboration or use of outside resources allowed at all. These are done during class times and are intended to measure your ability to perform learning objective tasks on demand.

For students with special needs: Grand Valley State University (GVSU) is committed to providing access to programs and facilities for all students, faculty, and staff. GVSU promotes the inclusion of individuals with disabilities as part of our commitment to creating a diverse, intercultural community. It is the policy of GVSU to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended by the ADA Amendment Act (2008), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and other applicable federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. GVSU will provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities upon request. If there is any student in this class who has special needs because of learning, physical, or other disability, please contact me (Prof. Talbert) or the Disability Support Services office (200 STU, 616–331–2490).

Updates to this syllabus: The syllabus is subject to change if amendments and additions are warranted. All changes will be communicated appropriately to the class in this case, and changes will be made to the electronic version of this syllabus that is located on GitHub and linked to the Blackboard site.

Instructor biographical sketch

I am an Associate Professor in the Mathematics Department here at GVSU. I came to GVSU in 2011 after spending 10 years (2001--2011) on the faculty at Franklin College in Indiana, and then 4 years (1997--2001) at Bethel College in Indiana. I started teaching when I was a junior in high school, giving private trumpet lessons and working as a tutor in math, statistics, and Latin. I first taught as a classroom instructor while in graduate school in 1994.

My undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Mathematics from Tennssee Technological University, and I earned my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, I was a Master Teaching Fellow at the Center for Teaching and won two teaching awards, the B.F. Bryant Prize for Excellence in Teaching (awarded through the math department) and the Outstanding Teaching Assistant award as the top teaching assistant at the university.

Teaching is the most important part of my work at GVSU. Not only is teaching challenging and rewarding in itself, it also is the focus of much of my research at the moment in the scholarship of teaching and learning as well as many of my service opportunities on campus and off campus. Last year I was honored to receive GVSU's Pew Teaching with Technology Award as well as to be GVSU's nominee for Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year.

My mathematical research was formerly in a field called algebraic topology which is a hybrid of geometry and abstract algebra. These days, my interests have shifted to the scholarship of teaching and learning and to areas that are at the intersection of mathematics and computer science -- areas such as cryptography, theoretical computer science, and functional programming.

Here at GVSU, in addition to my teaching opportunities and research projects, I am the chair of the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center Advisory Committee and of the Math Department's Student Affairs Committee, and I serve as the Math Department's instructional resources coordinator which involves managing all the department's classroom technology assets such as computers, software, and tablet devices.

Outside of GVSU, I serve frequently as a speaker and consultant for educational groups wishing to learn more about effective teaching and learning. This semester I will be giving keynote presentations and workshops in Kansas City, MO; Kingston, Jamaica; and two online events.

I am originally from middle Tennessee, near Nashville, and I have moved steadily northward my entire life. I currently live in Allendale (near Allendale Middle School, about 5 miles from campus) with my wife, three kids (ages 6, 9, and 11) and three cats. My hobbies include technology of all sorts, playing on the Wii U with my kids, running, cycling, soccer, American football, and reading.

For more information about me and what I do, please visit my website at and my blog at

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