Young Teaching Contest winner weaves poetry into mathematical teaching

Mar 12, 2020

i is me, lonely on the one side,

u is you, so charming on the other side

Wanna tie us together, heart to heart

With the magic Mobius band.

Euler is here, nature is here,

Mobius is infinite

it can bring them together.

An unknown poet

During this challenging period in the lives of everyone, the community at Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) remains resolute in their commitment to education and research. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has not dampened the enthusiasm of any of our hard-working educators, who have found new ways to explore their creativity in their online classrooms.

Assistant Professor Hu Yong (Department of Mathematics) has been live-streaming his classes from his wife’s hometown in Hubei Province, as a result of the strict isolation protocols that remain in place. He and his family have remained steadfast in the face of the challenges.

Assistant Professor Hu Yong has combined both Chinese and Western teaching backgrounds to present rigorous and wide-ranging classes. He integrates a strong work ethic with a sense of humor that has made his classes highly popular among undergraduate students. In the Young Teachers Teaching Competition held in late December 2019, Assistant Professor Hu Yong claimed a special prize.

Reflecting on his time in his wife’s hometown, he and his family have not been feeling down. They believe that the current situation will pass in due course following proper scientific protocols.

However, he was far more concerned about how he would continue to teach his students during this period. His commitment to his students should be lauded.

Assistant Professor Hu Yong admitted that he had to adjust his teaching style to the new paradigm. He would traditionally write on the blackboard in his classroom to show theories and formulas to help students understand how to deduce the proofs. He also had to work out how to access teaching materials that allowed students to adjust to the new educational models while feeling comfortable with the methodologies they had experienced in the classroom.

Developing an optimal method for broadcasting his classes was the subject of considerable discussion with his teaching assistant Ding Zhaochen. They concluded that a computer could display coursework, while a mobile phone could broadcast content on the blackboard in his home – in this case, writing on paper.

Assistant Professor Hu Yong paid specific attention to playback software and teaching procedures, testing different systems before he settled on his software of choice. It allows him to record the entire class for students to review.

Once he was prepared for his classes, students flocked to his courses. Assistant Professor Hu Yong has always taken care to connect mathematical theories to pop culture and the reality of life, so students remain interested.

In the mind of Assistant Professor Hu Yong, there was no doubt that online courses would be popular with students. He believes that a combination of online and offline education could be the optimal direction, so he is taking this unique opportunity to learn as much as possible.

His lesson preparation requires a shift in his thinking, requiring him to consider what the students know and need to learn. Taking their point of view allows him to adjust his lesson plans to ensure that all students can keep up throughout the semester. He has also integrated a full set of notes that co-exists with the textbook so that students can go through the material in the optimal order.

While many students across the globe have claimed that mathematics is a boring subject, Assistant Professor Hu Yong has injected a spark of culture into his classes through humor and poetry. Doses of joy, in his eyes, are needed to keep students involved and engaged in the courses, particularly now that they are online.

It is not just his classes that are interesting. Assistant Professor Hu Yong weaves humor and creativity throughout his emails to students, keeping them involved and connected. During his online courses, his lesser-known poetic talents spill out onto the page to help students understand complex theories. These poems have been shared online by his students, with his students’ WeChat Moments filling up with their admiration for his prose prowess.

Despite the vast distances between him and his students, the quality of communication has not diminished. He answers questions from his students, provides guidance, and keeps an eye out for any other issues that might be problematic during this challenging period in the world.

While he is beloved by many students, Assistant Professor Hu Yong believes that he is not the ideal mentor for every student. Independent thought is an essential requirement for students, and he hopes that they find their guide, based on their personalities and needs. His “Tutor Selection Guide,” while initially viewed as very funny, was found to be exceptionally insightful.

An essential part of the SUSTech spirit is enlightening new students with an innovative point of view that can adapt to new paradigms and face unique challenges. Assistant Professor Hu Yong has encouraged his students to become self-confident and optimistic in the face of the current situation. “Cherish the time with your family while you pursue excellence. You can become a successful person anywhere.”