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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The story of an ‘exquisite’ new discrete math textbook by EMU’s Owen Byer and Deirdre L. Smeltzer | Augusta Free Press

Sometimes the thrill of mathematics doesn’t come from the question, but from a beautiful solution, inform Christopher Clymer Kurtz, Staff Writer at Eastern Mennonite University.

Journey into Discrete Mathematics
(AMS/MAA Textbooks)
Consider the approach EMU math professor Owen Byer took when deciding which problems to include in the new textbook he co-authored with math-professor-turned-vice president and academic dean Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer, and Regent University professor Kenneth Wantz:

“In my own view,” he said, “either it should be a really interesting question, or – lacking that – the solution should be beautiful. Even average problems are worth including if the solution teaches you something.”

This November marked the publication of the long-anticipated – and, already, long-used – textbook Journey into Discrete Mathematics (Mathematical Association of America Press, 2018).

“This is definitely the best math textbook that I’ve ever used,” said sophomore Andrew Nord after a recent session of his discrete math class, which is the latest to use the – until now, pre-published – book. “It explains the concepts very fully and in a way that can be understood fairly easily.”

From the start
Byer, Smeltzer and Byer’s University of Delaware PhD advisor Felix Lazebnik began talking about writing Journey at about the same time the trio’s earlier textbook Methods for Euclidean Geometry(MAA, 2010) was published. All three had doctoral training in discrete math and had taught it many times, and “it seemed like a good second joint project,” Smeltzer said...

A beautiful solution: students 
As early as half a decade ago, Byer and his colleagues at EMU began using Journey in the classroom, first in pdf form  and later – including this fall, even as the book was heading to press – in three-ring binders in Professor Daniel Showalter’s discrete math class.

“This is definitely the best math textbook that I’ve ever used. It explains the concepts very fully and in a way that can be understood fairly easily.”  –Andrew NordDoing that had distinct benefits: Students could learn from a textbook grounded in experienced educational practice. Plus, students’ fresh eyes would help tease out what needed better explanation – and they’d find mistakes, discoveries that were often rewarded with bonus points.

Another of Showalter’s students, sophomore Silas Clymer, remembers – with a note of satisfied glee in his voice – finding a misleading hint in a homework problem. But more importantly, “It’s definitely cool having the writer of the book downstairs in an office,” he said. “You can go to talk to him if you need to.”

Source: Augusta Free Press