Learning at McKendree: J. Alan Alewine, Ph.D.

Dr. Alan Alewine takes his students and their education seriously, but not himself. In addition to “Music Mondays,” the mathematics professor uses Legos, M&Ms and even chocolate chip cookies to explain complex concepts in memorable ways.

“The stereotypical mathematics class period consists of the instructor lecturing and the students copying notes,” says Alewine, who in 2014 took on a new role as associate provost. “With that pedagogical method, the only activity the students are engaged in is the furious scribbling of notes on paper with the occasional question of the type, ‘Is that a t or a +?’ That approach works beautifully for approximately 1% of any particular group of students.”

“Of course, I still lecture, but I punctuate my lectures with questions I ask of the students, and I often ask for on-the-spot presentations from them. Sometimes I provide ‘teasers,’ as in, ‘Soon in this course, we will study a structure in which 1+1=0,’ which never fails to make at least one student exclaim, ‘Nah-ah!’ I particularly love leaving the teasers for the end of the class period.”

One of the professor’s unique teaching methods caught the attention of other mathematicians at the 2014 MathFest, a national convention held last August in Portland, Oregon. Alewine gave a presentation on how he uses a chocolate chip cookie recipe to convey an important yet often difficult to understand concept in linear algebra. Based on the audience’s enthusiastic response, a journal editor invited him to turn the presentation into an article for publication.

In 2014, Alewine published two peer reviewed articles, “Bounds on Mosaic Knots” (coauthored with Heather A. Dye and students) in the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal and “Rates of Uniform Convergence for Riemann Integrals” in the Missouri Journal of Mathematical Sciences.


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