Foundations of Mathematics

Math 281                                Dave’s Syllabus                                      Fall 2014

There’s some irony to the name of this course.  You’ve probably taken math classes for 13 straight years and now you get to the Foundations!?!  What’s all of your math knowledge built on anyway, sand?  Nothing? 


Actually your path through mathematics mirrors the historical development of those same ideas.  Limits and derivatives were being used for 170 years before good definitions were developed.  Various cultures talked about a concept of infinity for centuries before Georg Cantor provided the foundations for the mathematical study of infinity.  (He proved a stunning fact that we will hopefully get to in this course – not only are there different sizes of infinity, but there are actually an infinite number of sizes of infinity!) 


In this semester of FOM, we’ll work our way through the following topics, all of which will be vital in future math courses (and, actually, in life):


The thread that connects all of these topics, and the main point of this course, is to answer this question:


How do you establish mathematical certainty?

Important Facts:


Dave Kung


175 Schaefer Hall, x4433

(or 240-895-4433 from off-campus)


Anna Steinfeld



Office Hours:



and by appointment.






Where to go for help: To learn the key concepts of FOM, we’ll use a variety of classroom activities, homework, and writing assignments (both online and on paper).  We’ll do lots of work on the whiteboard tables in 161 – please avoid scratching the tables with three-ring binders or sharp jewelry. You’ll be expected to spend a significant amount of time reading the textbook. 


When you get stuck, you’ll have three main resources to draw on. The first and most important is your fellow classmates. This course will be hard – at times very hard.  It will go much smoother for all of us if you start getting to know your classmates and start studying with them outside of class early in the semester.  The second is your able teaching assistant, Anna Steinfeld. Your third resource is me - contact info and office hours appear above.  I will also be around at other times - feel free to drop by and say hi.  If you can't find me, email or call and we'll schedule an appointment that works for both of us.  If an emergency comes up and you are forced to miss class, you should drop me an email (I check it very frequently).

Assignments: There will be three different types of assignments: the problem of the week, your blog and other homework from the book, and written proofs. 

Every Tuesday I will post a Problem of the Week on the math wing. Please stop by and read the problem. Solutions are due one week later. (The first one is up and will be due Tuesday, Sept. 9th. PoW solutions are graded largely on the quality of your attempt – and your lowest grade will be dropped before averaging the rest.

For the blog, I recommend using (which allows for some math symbols). See the separate “Guide to Writing a FOM Blog” for more details. In addition to your blog, problems from the book will be occasionally assigned. Some will be done on your blog, others on paper.

Written Proofs will be assigned about once a week and collected in class.  You will be graded on how complete and understandable your proofs are.  For your first two proofs, you will be encouraged to revise and resubmit them.  This will give you some time to adjust to our expectations.  We encourage you to work with others to develop your proofs but the writing must be entirely your own.


Assessment                                    Date                                Percent  


Thursday, October 30th  


Blog & Homework

all semester


Written Proofs

all semester



all semester 


Class Participation

all semester


Take-home Final

Due Dec. 15th, 7pm








The mid-term will be in class – though you may stay late if you need. The final will be a take-home exam that must be done without consulting other people or other books.  Thanks for reading this far - on Thursday, September 4th, please come to the Math Wing of Schaefer Hall before class (not the regular room) – but don’t tell anyone else. 


By the end of the semester, you will understand the amazing role proofs play in mathematics, as well as how and why to write them.


Fine Print


Rules for academic misconduct are contained in your student handbook. Anyone violating those rules will be dealt with quickly and effectively, to preserve the academic integrity of your fellow students and SMCM.


If you have a documented learning disability, please see me in the first week of classes to discuss your accommodations.