By Ridhika Agrawal
This year, the Grinnell College Mathematics department welcomed a new lecturer, Pye Phyo Aung. He is teaching Calculus I and Calculus II this semester.
Aung received his undergraduate degree at Concordia College in Moorhead and his master’s in Applied Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University. He went on to finish his PhD at North Dakota State University, after which he was a visiting professor at University of the Pacific. Now he is a lecturer here in Grinnell.
His keen interest in mathematics started right from an early age.
“When I was an undergrad, a math teacher showed me her copy of ‘Fermat’s Enigma,” said Aung. “After that I got interested in mathematics.”
Apart from teaching at Grinnell College, he is also involved in research work.
“My research area is in something called homological algebra, which is a branch of abstract algebra. My doctoral dissertation is in homological algebra,” Aung said.
His passion in research also started early, emerging from the opportunities he was afforded at Concordia College.
“I was a mathematics and physics major as an undergrad, so I knew undergraduate mathematics. When I was a student I did some undergraduate research in physical chemistry, that is research on the mathematics cycle of physical chemistry,” Aung said.
As a lecturer, Aung is still trying to figure out his teaching pattern.
“I’m not sure if I have a particular style of teaching,” he said. But “in mathematics, I think many instructors strive to do something called assisted discovery. So we try not to teach the theorems to students. We let them, we help them discover those facts and theorems on their own… It’s not always possible to do it all the time but that’s what the course standard is. A lot of the math teachers want to do that,” Aung said.
But time has proven to be an issue that this method of pedagogy runs up against.
“Sometimes we are successful, sometimes we are not that successful because there is too much to cover and it all depends on the time constraint. But, if I have to name a teaching style, that’s the teaching style a lot of the math teachers use,” Aung said.
He also considers how his students receive his method of teaching and tries to reach to all types of students.
“I don’t think there is a single ideal student. Obviously talent plays an important role but for introductory classes for example like in Calculus I and Calculus II, if you work hard enough, everybody can get an A,” Aung said.
Apart from mathematics, Mr. Aung also has multiple hobbies.
“I like to listen to music and I like to read. I don’t have a single favorite book, it keeps changing and it depends on my mood. I also like the outdoors and hockey,” Aung said.