I ask all SMURCHOM participants to complete evaluation forms. The participants liked the format of the conference, especially the posters and the keynote speakers. One participant appreciated the choices allowed between the more technical and the contextual history of mathematics talks by the parallel sessions. One participant, an elementary mathematics major, was not especially interested in mathematics, but left the conference with a new appreciation of the subject and its history. Additionally, my student course evaluations from this year included appreciation about the research project process, whose many steps prevented procrastination. Another evaluation lauded the critical thinking that the course encouraged.
Looking Towards the Future
Organizing an undergraduate conference while preparing students to present at the conference is a challenging endeavor. This year, SMURCHOM happened soon after I gave my midterms, and as a result, I found it very hard to grade the examinations quickly. In the future, I might give two shorter exams that give SMURCHOM a wide berth. I am also considering changing my policy on exempting students who give talks at SMURCHOM from writing final papers. While my students are very motivated by this incentive, an undesirable result of this reward is that some of the best papers never get written. In order to keep up the motivation, I might excuse students who give talks from the essay portion of the final examination.
I find that the research project process can always benefit from tweaking. While I require the use of a primary source in the project, I have found that many students use this source only superficially. In the future, I plan to create an activity in order to get my students to actively engage with their primary sources. Another challenge is helping students find research topics that really inspire them. I have found it especially difficult to help elementary and middle grades education students get excited about a topic.
I certainly intend to continue SMURCHOM, which is to my knowledge the only undergraduate conference in the country devoted to the history of mathematics. I hope that through the RUMC program, other regional undergraduate conferences on the history of mathematics might be established. Overall, I believe that SMURCHOM gives my students a unique undergraduate experience. Please join us in Cullowhee in Spring 2012 to experience SMURCHOM for yourself!
Poster presentation, SMURCHOM V (photo credit: Sloan Evans Despeaux).