It all adds up

Lew Ludwig, associate professor of mathematics

When chemistry major Annelise Thompson ’13 signed up for Calculus II as a sophomore, she, like many non-math majors, wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. But then she got to know the professor, Lew Ludwig.

He would begin each class with an interesting math fact, she recalls. Like, there are actually different sizes of infinity, and shuffling a deck of cards results in a never-before-seen way of ordering those cards. “From the moment you walk in the door,” she says, ”he grabs your interest and never lets it go.”  (He’s also known for teaching with props like cleavers, springs, toasters and even pumpkins.)

She goes on to explain that it’s not just the way but the ways Ludwig teaches—the way he gets them to learn by doing, talking, and questioning in what he calls the “flipped classroom,” which shuns long lectures and individual student work. The way he assigns group work that is actually fun and exciting, and gets large groups voluntarily gathered around a whiteboard late into the night. The way he connects smaller pieces to the larger mathematics story, and the way he connects mathematics to the larger academic story. So strong was her newfound appreciation for mathematics, based on just that one class, that Thompson declared it as a minor, and began actively exploring the integral relationships between chemistry and math.

Over the last 12 years at Denison, Ludwig has earned a stellar reputation for his teaching ways, which extend well beyond the classroom, and even the college. He designed Technically Speaking, a DVD and companion website designed to help undergraduates develop oral communications and presentation skills, and he founded the first two Undergraduate Knot Theory Conferences to recognize undergraduate research. He is the co-creator of a pilot program to teach effective learning strategies to younger students who are interested in pursuing careers in natural science, computer science, math, or medicine. He’s also been recognized as a leader in helping Denison faculty create interdisciplinary courses and explore themes related to delivering a liberal arts education.

That reputation caught up with him recently at the annual Mathematical Association of America’s regional conference, when he was selected from a field of 500 nominees to receive the 2013 Ohio Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. One of the organization’s highest honors, it places him in the running for a national award to be announced later this year.

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