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I'm hoping the userbase here doesn't mind if I do a little crowd-sourcing.

I'm curious to find out about popular general-interest mathematics or statistics classes that are offered universities that you know about. By popular I mean crowd pleasing, in that these courses are suitable to large audiences, the course is aimed at the student that wants to know a little bit about the subject -- but they don't want to take a foundational course, or a course on proofs. This course isn't intended for majors in any particular subject, more for students that just want to dabble in some ideas but not "dive in" -- so there would likely be little homework of much intensity (by a math major's standards, at least).

Physics or astronomy departments sometimes have courses with titles like "astrophysics for poets". I'm curious about math offerings you might know of that are of that flavour. I'm particularly interested in course-catalogue listings and course webpages, if possible. I'm not interested in one-off type courses -- I want courses that have been repeated with success, and preferrably having more than one instructor that has been able to offer it with success (sorry if this is getting demanding). I'm not very interested in upper-level courses (like a fractals or dynamics course that assume students know a fair bit of calculus). I wonder if many people have been able to turn topics like gambing or knot theory into accessible "no background required" offerings or not.

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3 Answers 3

You might check out When Topology meets Chemistry by Erica Flapan or The Knot Book by Colin Adams.

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Do you know of regular "large enrollment" courses that are offered, based on this material? This seems like a course that should be offered to a relatively small, motivated group of students. –  Ryan Budney Feb 11 '11 at 4:26

My university offers a 2nd year course on Discrete math which is very popular. It requires no prerequisite knowledge except highschool algebra. This is basically a university level course on problem solving. It includes puzzles, games, number theory, riddles, as well as basic coding thoery, crytopgraphy and graph theory. The course follows the text "The puzzling Adventures of Dr Echo".

http://books.google.ca/books?id=UvYGqvXfgbcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%5CThe+Puzzling+Adventures+of+Dr.+Ecco&source=bl&ots=8LlBwI0kE9&sig=ZbW7f9d45RamYiL7G62Nb6UNq8U&hl=en&ei=6LFUTZSCEYa0lQe7pcmTBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

This is a required course for all students wishing to become math teachers as it explains much of the theory behind the games and puzzles used in elementary school. There is no course website but here are some assignments so you can see what I'm talking about.

http://www.math.ualberta.ca/~bpowell/Math%20222/Exam/Exam%20Review.pdf

http://www.math.ualberta.ca/~bpowell/Math%20222/Assignment%203/Ast%203.pdf

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Hi Joe, thanks. I was an undergrad at U.Alberta, it looks like they've changed the curriculum a little since I was there. I remember there only being a single 3rd (maybe 4th?) year combinatorics course when I was there. –  Ryan Budney Feb 11 '11 at 4:25
    
Do you remember how many sections of the course were offered, and roughly the class population per section? I'm wondering if this is quite different than similar courses I've seen elsewhere -- these would be classes with 20-30 students per class. Is the class population dominated by people specializing in primary-school education or does it get a lot of arts majors as well? –  Ryan Budney Feb 11 '11 at 4:47
    
@Ryan: The course I described (math 222) usually has one or two sections each semester each with 80-100 students. Most of the students are general math majors/minors (ie not students in a honors program) or students from the Faculty of Education. The combinatorics course you are thinking of is math 421 which is an interesting course but much more specialized. There is only one section of that course a year with about 20 students. –  user3180 Feb 11 '11 at 5:18
    
@Ryan: We also have a "History of Mathematics" course: one section with about 60 students. That may be something that general science students may find interesting but probably not arts students as some math background is requried. –  user3180 Feb 11 '11 at 5:31

This is probably very late, but for what it's worth...

At Brown, Tom Banchoff sometimes teaches a first-year seminar called "Exploring the Fourth Dimension." (In fact, it looks like he's teaching it this coming fall.)

I don't know what he covers, but it's certainly intended for a very broad audience.

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Thanks. If you find any lecture-notes available on-line, or even a syllabus outline I'd love to see it. –  Ryan Budney Jun 27 '13 at 1:53
    
    
So many people are interested in the mysterious "fourth dimension," I imagine you could probably do pretty much anything with the course. –  Jesse Madnick Jun 27 '13 at 4:15
    
Jesse, do you know how many times Banchoff's course has been offered, and roughly what the average enrollment is once final grades have been assigned? –  Ryan Budney Jun 27 '13 at 4:43
    
@RyanBudney: I'm realizing the link I posted requires a password that I don't have; sorry about that. I know that Banchoff has taught the course at least four times, roughly once every two years. At Brown, First-Year Seminars are all capped at $20$ students -- the university really over-hypes them, in my opinion -- so sometimes there may be waiting lists to enroll. Enrollment is done purely on a lottery basis. The grading basis may even be mandatory Pass/Fail, but this I don't recall. –  Jesse Madnick Jun 27 '13 at 9:19

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