Math 120: Introduction to Contemporary Mathematics

(Fall 2018)
Instructor: Dr. Manil Suri

Detailed weekly schedule available through this link.

Basic Information

  • Dr. Manil Suri, Math/Psych 419, (410) 455-2311,,
    office hours: MW 3:30-4:30 or by appointment
  • Lectures: MW 5:30-6:45 (MP 104)
  • Text: (1) The Godfather of Numbers (2) Math in Society edited by David Lippman
  • Prerequisites: Math 106 or Grade 3,4,5 on LRC Math placement test.

Outline and Syllabus

This is a pilot version of a redesigned course that differs from the standard version offered in previous semesters. As textbook, we will follow “The Godfather of Numbers” a novel that explains mathematics in the context of the formation of the universe. The story shows how one can start with numbers, then build up arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, culminating in pattern formation and physics. Along the way, we will explore how the concept of infinity is key to several topics in contemporary mathematics. We will also use selections from the online book, “Math in Society” to address some of the goals of the course (see below). A key element will be to explore the use of video in conjunction with mathematics learning.

Since this is a pilot, there will be some surveys to gauge the effectiveness of the various components of the course. Completing these surveys is mandatory, since they are part of the class assignments you will be doing for your grade. However, some of the responses to these surveys (as well as to other assignments) may also be used to answer research questions for math education publications – see the “Consent Statement” below.


There are several reasons advanced as to why everyone should learn mathematics. First, for its practical value in terms of day-to-day arithmetic calculations and, depending on your eventual profession, solving more complex problems you may encounter. Second, for aesthetic reasons – the “beauty” of math, which most people may need training to appreciate. Third, to gain an understanding of math’s underlying prevalence in our universe – many natural phenomena follow mathematical patterns. Fourth, to train yourself in logical or “mathematical” thinking as well as abstraction. Fifth, to facilitate a well-rounded education which includes knowledge about contemporary mathematics. We will discuss each of these goals and decide to what extent these should be pursued in this class. To these five possible goals, we will add a sixth: understanding your own relationship with the subject.

Below are some specific goals derived from the above list, with an indication of what part of the course will address each. Additional goals may be added, depending on class preferences.

1. Get a new perspective on mathematics, starting from elementary concepts like numbers and arithmetic, and going on to geometry, algebra and beyond (Topics from “The Godfather of Numbers”)

2. Gain an understanding of how mathematical processes shape our world. (Topics from “The Godfather of Numbers”)

3. Enhance computational and problem-solving mathematical skills. (“Problem Solving” chapter from “Math in Society” and other exercises)

4. Acquire a basic understanding of statistics and its practical uses. (Selections from “Math in Society”)

5. Examine the basics of logic and its applications in day-to-day life. (Additional notes)

6. Understand your own mathematical journey and how the subject relates to your major. (Video project)

Assignments and Tests

There will be several types of assignments.

  1. Survey assignments will measure progress in the course among other assessments.
  2. Reading assignments will be web (Blackboard) based, and will be due by 5:30 p.m. on class days. These will generally test whether you have completed assigned readings before coming to class. In order to get a C or better in the course, you must achieve a minimum average score of 70% in these assignments. NOTE: If there is a significant problem with Blackboard, I will accept answers written on paper, submitted to me at the start of the class.
  3. Application assignments will measure how well you can apply materials read or discussed. Some of these may be completed in class and may be group-based.
  4. The project will be a creative exploration related to mathematics. The default will be a video on an aspect of the relation of math to your major. But other proposals, including personal chronicles or group projects, will also be entertained. The assignment will include a class presentation.

There will be one mid-term test, on Monday, October 22. There will be no final.

Attendance Requirement

This is an attendance-mandatory class. You are expected to attend all classes (attendance will be taken each time through Blackboard). Being more than 7 minutes late or leaving early will be counted as an absence (unless pre-approved). To qualify for a C or better, you cannot have more than four absences for reasons other than documented illness or religious holidays. NOTE: There will be no class on Wed, Nov 21.


Your overall grade will be based on the following formula:

Survey (S) assignments: 5% (Full credit for these if fully completed and turned in on time, reduced credit otherwise)

Class Participation: 10% (Based on attendance score and participation in discussions)

Reading (R) assignments: 20% (Minimum average of 70% required for a C or better)

Application (A) assignments: 25%

Mid-term Test: 20%

Project: 20%

To get a C or better, you MUST obtain a minimum average of 70% in the reading assignments AND satisfy the attendance requirement. Once these are satisfied, the cut-off overall scores will be 90% for an A, 80% for a B, 65% for a C and 50% for a D.

Class Etiquette

No texting. No chatting among yourselves unless for class purposes. Three violations will be marked up as an absence and endanger your attendance requirement.

Important Dates

Wed, Sep 12 is the last date to drop a class without a W on your transcript. Tue, Nov 13 is the last date to drop this class with a grade of W. Please talk to me first if you are thinking of dropping the course!

Academic Conduct

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory.

Accommodations for Disability

If you require accommodations for this class based on disability, please make an appointment to meet with me to discuss your SSS-approved accommodations. Please see for more information.

Consent Statement

As explained under “Outline and Syllabus,” the results of surveys and assignments may be used for research publications in mathematics education, as described in the following Consent Statement:

“I consent to participate in the research aspect of this pilot class. This indicates my agreement that all information collected from me individually may be used by current and future researchers in such a fashion that my personal identity will be protected. Such use will include presentations at scientific or professional meetings, publishing in scientific journals, sharing anonymous information with other researchers for checking the accuracy of study findings and for future approved research that has the potential for improving human knowledge.”

However, you are free to opt out of such usage at any stage of the course (you just need to inform me). You will still be required to complete all assignments and surveys, but your responses would then not be tabulated for the purposes of such research.