"...how it differs from the rocks"

OpenLab #1: Advice from the Past

In Fall 2014 I taught this course and at the end of the semester, I gave my students the following assignment:

Imagine that you are invited to speak on the first day of MAT 2680, to give advice to entering students.  Write at least three sentences … describing what you would tell them.

To see the assignment and the students’ responses, follow this link.

Your assignment, due at the beginning of class next Thursday, February 14th, is to:

  1. Read through ALL the responses (there are 63 of them, but many of these are short replies to other comments).
  2. Write a reply to this post (1 paragraph) responding to all of the following:
    1. What advice seemed most relevant to you personally? Why? (you can copy/paste a short statement, or put it in your own words)
    2. Based on this advice, what changes can you make right now to help you succeed in this course?

Extra Credit. For extra credit, write a response to one of your classmates’ comments.  Do you have any advice?  Be kind.


  1. HenryLam

    1a) Reading the comments from the previous semester, the best advice that i gotten was that i should review my notes or try to have free time to study up on calc 1 and 2. After being in the first two session, i realized that my knowledge of calculus is not the best. It relates to me personally because im usually not the type of person to brush up on notes, but i definitely will need to.
    2b) Whenever i have free time, i should spend 15 mins or so to review back on calc 1 and 2 . Also, try to view future topics and get to know it a bit before class.

    • Jennifer

      I agree with you on needing to brush up on calculus notes which I also didn’t do but I wished I did so I could’ve been prepared earlier on. I also advise that if just reviewing your calculus notes don’t help then you can go to tutoring or talk to the professor during his office hours, he will be help you.

      • umaira shah

        I strongly agree with you on reviewing notes from calculus 1 and 2 and try to have free time to review calculus 1 and 2 stuff. Also try to review future topics and get to know the material before class because it will make more easier to understand.

    • YuFang

      I agree, I can sympathize with you on how even I refuse to review my notes. I feel like we all get discouraged on doing problems just by looking at the length, overestimating the difficulty, or whatnot.

      • YuFang

        And we should get rid of that sort of mentality.

    • Jonas Reitz

      Hi Henry – thanks for being first-to-post! I like the strategy you describe in 2b – it can be helpful to have a “cheat sheet” of integrals and derivatives to look at whenever you have a few minutes.

  2. Jennifer

    2a) The advice that seems the most relevant is for this course is you should review your calculus 1 and 2 notes to be prepared for this class. The reason why is when it comes to solving problems, such as, non-homogeneous linear problems you need to be able to do integration and if you don’t understand how to do derivatives or integration then you will have a difficult time to do the questions for this course. I’m understanding this from experience because the last time I took calculus was a year ago so it took time for me to catch up on my calculus notes. So instead of struggling in the class it’s better to study and be prepared early on.
    2b) The changes I would make to succeed in this course is go to tutoring in order to catch up on my calculus concepts and understand this course a little better so I don’t end up being behind in this class. If I have any further problems and the tutoring isn’t helping, I will go to my professor’s office hours and ask him for extra assistance to understanding the materials. In addition, by completing the webwork assignments it helps you practice on the course’s concepts and calculus materials. Lastly, you can always ask your classmates to help you if needed and watch YouTube videos (which by the way help a lot).

    • David levi

      I agree with you that it would be highly beneficial for our success in this course to take advantage of the great resources we have at our disposal, such as asking your classmates for help, contact the professor via email or come to his office hours, tutoring, and especially youtube since I can personally attest that it has helped me greatly in my study of calculus.

      • Rabia Arif

        I totally agree with the part where you said if you don’t know integrals or derivates, you can’t solve problems like non-homogeneous. It will be very beneficial if we watch youtube videos and ask the professor for help.

    • Jonas Reitz

      Great suggestions – there are definitely resources available, but you have to make the time and effort to take advantage of them. Good luck!

  3. David levi

    After reading through the posts by a former class taught by Prof. Reitz, I came across numerous pieces of advice that I found to be quite relevant and important in order to be successful in this course. What stood out to me was when someone strongly encouraged future students to really pay attention to the classes in the beginning of the semester since they are the foundation of the course and everything is built off it. An additional helpful piece of advice was to make sure that you are able to identify different kinds of differential equations, so that when exam time comes around you’ll know what approach to take to solve the given problem.
    I think it’ll be a good idea (besides for obviously reviewing class material from previous calculus courses on integration and differentiation) to really put my efforts into this class specifically at this time of the semester when things aren’t as hectic as they will be later on and to pay particular attention to the format of the different kinds of differential equations and to be comfortable with identifying them and the correct approach on how to solve each kind.

    • Jonas Reitz

      It’s definitely true that an investment of effort up front can really make a difference in the whole rest of the class – great idea.

  4. umaira shah

    So, after reading posts and comments from pervious class. I would recommend that review every topic calculus 1 and 2 in order to understand differential equations. By keeping calculus 2 prepared for differential equations class will help us to solve the questions and make it easier to understand. Two most important things are that pay attention during class time and revise your notes everyday in order to be successful in class.

  5. Andy.Leung

    After reading the posts from previous classes, I agree with all of the comments. The comment that was most relevant to me was that if you’re bad at math and didn’t do well in calc 1 and 2, I need to freshen up on my integrals and differentiation. I also agree that i need to ask questions instead of being scared that people will judge me when I know that others don’t care.
    The changes that i will try to make is to ask more questions on stuff that i didn’t understand during the process of anything such as integration and differentiation. I need to spend more time on doing the questions and do more examples so i can sharpen my integration and differentiation skills.

  6. Pastuszka

    After reading the responses almost all of the advise said to review calc 2, especially integration by parts. Which I’ve already noticed is very important. One said keeping track of the problem by using color pens or pencils which I think is a good idea. I’ve found already that keeping track of the mini answers in order to get the final answer has been difficult. A few mentioned partial fractions and taylor series and as of right now I don’t remember these from previous classes so I will spend time reviewing these topics. I will also take advantage of office hours because I can use all the help I can get. I think practice and time will be the things I have to do in order to stay focused and not get lost.

  7. YuFang

    After reading the responses, I find that many of the students find difficulties with trying to recall the materials they’ve learned from calculus 1 and 2. What I should take to consideration is the hours spent on practicing extra problems after class, regardless whether calculus is your cup of tea or not. It is also helpful to at least take a few minutes to review and refresh yourself before each class just so you’re able to understand the topic that’ll be discussed. Asking questions is a good idea, but I recommend to actually try to do a few questions by yourself first just so you can narrow down which part specifically you’re having trouble with.

    • William Santiago

      I second this notion. I also feel that if your foundation of Calculus 1 and Calculus 2 is lacking, the it will limit how well you will perform in differential equations.

  8. James Picon

    I agree with all the comments. My advice is to sit down every day for at least 1 hour and review integration techniques. Also, I like to review algebra because that is where most people make mistakes. My other advice is to memorize each step when solving a problem. Usually, when I am stuck in a problem, or I do not understand a topic. I go to youtube and watch videos. These are my advice to succeed in Math 2680.

    • Robertxander Bello

      I also watch tutorials online sometimes if the textbook isn’t very clear. Have you tried Khan Academy? Their videos are pretty good and easy to understand.

  9. Rabia Arif

    After going through all those responses and reading all the comments, I say they are very much true. If you want to succeed in a class like differential equations, you need to go over what you learned in Calculus I and especially Calculus II. If you don’t know your integrals and your derivatives, this class is going to be extra hard. I recommend using khan academy or watch youtube videos. They will help a lot. Also, I recommend going to tutoring in name building or maybe ask a person sitting next to you in class, they might have the same issue as you. You never know. Make sure you have at least one good friend in class that can help you out or you can help each other out. They might know stuff that you don’t or the other way around. I hope we all make out of this class alive lol.

    • Terence Cox

      I agree with you a lot about finding a friend in the class who you can ask for help. Most of us are struggling to understand the math and we may all be having difficulties at different parts a math problem, but if we were to group up and help each other by piecing together parts of the problem our friends are facing, we could all survive differentials.

  10. Riky

    Reading through the posts, the advice that would most help me personally is to not leave webwork until the last second, and to use it as a tool to help me review. As well as to keep asking questions in class, especially if I am having trouble grasping the concept and am unable to understand how to solve a problem. The changes I will need to make now are to review my notes as well as look over the textbook as soon as i get the chance, so that I don’t forget how to solve a problem and then attempt to do the webwork to see if I have a grasp on what I’ve learned for that day.

  11. Benny Lui

    The advice that is most relevant to me is concentrating and paying attention in class. I feel this the most important thing in differentials because there are so many steps in one single problem that if I miss a step it could make the entire problem wrong. I also believe that asking for help is relevant to me because if i am stuck on a step I might not ever understand until I ask for help to get the exact reason where I am making a mistake. With this advice right now I would change by focusing and asking for help when I need it instead of not understanding what i am doing wrong.

  12. Terence Cox

    A piece of advice that I find useful in the comments is to make a great start in the class by truly understanding the first thing that’s thought (Linear Homogeneous ODE’s). The reason I find this advice useful is that if you were to study this first topic, you can gauge how time-consuming and strenuous the class will be, and then better prepare yourself for what’s to come next. This advice applies to me because I have dropped a few math classes all because I never started strong in them and had fallen short at midterms. But, when I first tried to start off strong by dedicating all of my “available” time into studying for my previous math class, I had realized that once I grasp a great understanding of the first major concepts the rest became easy and clear once I’ve understood the basics. There aren’t many changes I can do from taking on this advice because this has to do with an earlier time, but I can still proceed in dedicating more of my time into understanding the basics of Diffy-Q so that I can spend less time struggling during the midterm and final.

    • Jonas Reitz

      Terence, I really like the advice you share here – it’s good to remember that every time you do a problem, it gets easier (and faster) to do it in the future! Don’t be afraid to devote a long time to mastering a single problem – because the next problem will go much faster because of it. Great.

  13. Christian Culcay

    I read the student’s responses and mostly all of them wrote about reviewing material from calculus 1, 2 and any algebra stuff. Also, they advised us about paying attention in class, asking questions, and maintaining clear notes from every class for future references. I concur with every piece of advice from the students and I can honestly say that I have applied those “techniques” to success in my math classes. The most relevant advice I could take into consideration is “And lastly don’t stress yourself out when test time comes around just keep calm or your paranoia will make you forget everything.” I always try to prepare for the exams but I always gets anxious until I finish the exam.

    The advises given by the students encourages me to keep doing my work I as I have done until now, and just keep working hard.

  14. Dillen Pantua

    After reading the responses, What advice I think was the most important was to ensure that the skills of Calc 1 and Calc 2 are brushed up upon since we use it in differential equations very often. To be able to know how to integrate and derive is quintessential to this course. The other thing I got from reading the responses is to do the webwork assignments on time and early on so the inclass discussions are easier to understand each class.

    • ChunYu Lin

      I agree with you Dillen, since majority of the course is about integration techniques. It would help so much to review and ensure that we know how to use them and use them well.

  15. Mitchell Ayzenberg

    2a) The best advice that i’ve read and pretty much majority of them was that having fresh knowledge of calc 1 and 2, mainly derivatives and integrals , is a must to succeed in differential equations. This seemed most relevant to me because I was able to do good in calc, but since i skipped a semester before taking differential equations my knowledge of derivatives and integrals kind of fell off. Also another helpful advice i realized was to pay really close attention in class. This is important because in math if you doze off for a minute you can miss a lot of material.

    2b) Based on the advice, I would want to review my notes from calc and study it thoroughly to try and master integrals because most of the material we are learning right now have to do with integration. Each day I will take 30 min to review derivatives and integrals so that when the time comes I will know how to do it.

    • Ibrahima Sow

      I totally agree with you Mitchell. I also took calculus a year ago and my knowledge of integral and derivative is not at the best. I will spend some time reviewing my previous notes and reinforce my knowledge of calculus.

  16. Brandon Fong

    After I reading all the advice from above I think some of the advice that is most relevant to me personally are go to office hours when you have free time and go to some tutoring center in the main building to get help. Also to review some of the material and note you learn in calculus 1 and 2 class because the only math teacher know you the most is your own professor that teaching you right now that is the reason why of course he will know what problem you need help with the most and what kind of problem you understand more and have confident on. Therefore, it will be easier for both you and your professor to help you in his tutoring session and sometime your professor cannot always have time to help you so I think you should use this benefit and go to the office hour more often in order to help you learn more differentials equation problem. Another thing is go for me to use is go to the tutoring center in the main building because like I said you professor doesn’t always have time to help you out so when this situation happen, then you should take this chance now and is time to go to some other place to find some help for the question you don’t understand because maybe those tutor don’t know you much but at least they have more skills and knowledge than you so I think you should take advantages on that and don’t wait in the last minute. Finally, I think you should also go to review some of the material and note you learn in calculus 1 and 2 class because it can help you prepare future topic and can let you understand more in order to let you know how to solve many differential problem in this class. As a result I think this kind of advice will be the most relevant to me personally.

  17. Brandon Fong

    Base on this advice, I think this three advice can make me change right now in order to succeed in this course are go to office hours when you have free time and go to some tutoring center in the main building to get help. Also to review some of the material and note you learn in calculus 1 and 2 class and practice some problem in home and do some exercise very often because when you solve a problem it can help you easily to remember the formula and equation you are using, then when you come back to class the professor will be able to speed up the things he teach because he don’t need to spend so much time on you to explain the problem you don’t know in every time. Therefore, I think this is a really good way to help me improve my calculus 1 and 2 skills in order to help me succeed in this course.

  18. Brandon Fong

    I really agree on your advice that you need to review every topic on calculus 1 and 2 in order to understand differential equations. By keeping calculus 2 note to prepared for differential equations class will help us to solve the questions and make it easier to understand. Two most important things are that pay attention during class time and revise your notes everyday because by keeping the note you have in the past you can now review any topic from before in anytime and it can help the professor speed up the class because the professor don’t need to always spend time on the old materials we already cover and it is very important to remember all the formula and equation we just learn because if you forget you will have no idea how to solve a problem so I think keep revise your note everyday is really a good way to solve this problem. At last, I think you need to pay attention to the class too because if you don’t focus you can’t learn anything and in the exam you will definitely have no choice to pass and get a high grade on it. Therefore, I think her advice is really good for us to learn and know about it.

  19. ChunYu Lin

    2a) The advice that seemed most relevant to you personally is to get extra help outside of class hours. Also, reviewing my notes from cal 1 and cal 2 would help me refresh my memory of all the integrate techniques that i learned from the past.
    2b) Based on the advice, i would start to ask for help if i need and ask my friends and classmates for extra help with the problems that i do not understand.

  20. Ivan Rodriguez

    After reading all of the responses, I realized that a lot of them is basically saying to go over the materials that were taught to us in Calculus 2. But the most important advice that got me was to put a lot of my time in not just knowing how to solve the problem, but to better understand the method of approaching the problem. The more time I put in to doing this, the better I’ll understand the big idea of the course. I liked the putting more time into the work because I really need to stop procrastinating on things and just start doing the work either before the due date or on the exact date. The changes I would make is to study more than just my notes and asking the professor what it is I don’t understand and to understand the big idea of Differential Equations. But the most import, putting the time to actually do it instead of me just saying. These advices has given me the help I need to know how to pass the course with a decent grade.

  21. atapia81

    A. Reading the responses, the most frequent feedback is being able to solve derivatives and integration. This is the most relevant advice because there have been classes where it is more important to pass than to understand and learn the material. Having the ability to recall and solve different methods of integration and derivatives is what’s going to decide how well I will do in this class.
    B. I need to go back to previous notes from calculus 1 and 2 and relearn anything I have forgotten. I can start by using the night before each class to review one section at a time and practice remembering the common integrals and derivatives.

  22. Robertxander Bello

    The best advice was from Rachel Rackal, when she said ” It is wise to keep calculus notes with you, to study from, and to have it as reference while in class and for studying purposes”, because many of the problems we’ve done in class have all had at least one integration technique that I remember but definitely needed a refresher on. So keeping notes from Calc 1 and 2 will really come in handy because of how much of the topics seem to build off of our knowledge of calculus. What I personal need to do is take each problem slow and figure out what parts of the problem are new and what parts are older concepts we’ve reviewed in Calc 1/2.

  23. Ibrahima Sow

    Most of the students’ advices consists of review our cal 1 and 2 notes, the different techniques of integration and differentiation since they represent the foundation of Differential Equation. It is a very helpful advice since most of us, after completing a class, consider it as done and never go back to it, which lead us to unlearn or forget the preview notions. Our previews classes should always be the foundation in which we build a new knowledge. Therefor I will try my very best to review my notes from cal 1 and 2 as often as possible to reinforced what I might have forgotten.
    The other advice that might be very helpful to me is to really focus on these first sessions of the class to build a solid foundation for what’s coming later in the semester. For that I will try to spend time before and after every class meeting in order to consolidate the notion.

    • Cristhian U

      I agree with you that reviewing our notes before and after class. Some review their notes after class, but not many do it before class. I think it will help us retain this information and help us understand the rest of the material faster.

  24. Kevin Pineros

    2A) Well you know what, my opinion after seeing all the comments my fellow classmates left in the comments section indicated that it is clearly important to practice concepts from Calculus 1 and 2 because it comes back and it gets involved in several parts of Differential Equations. I believe practicing integration is an important skill because its needed in solving separable D.E and same goes for Non Homogeneous and Homogeneous equations too because integrating by parts is needed. As far as my take on this, i honestly believe it can be challenging to remember calc 1 and 2 and apply it to D.E so i believe its beneficial to watch youtube videos on this matter and reading the textbook can further help.

    2B) The changes i would do regarding my routine on handling this course right now is to consider practicing problems regarding all the concepts i’ve learned so far for this course. Reading the textbook and asking the professor for advice regarding useful resources to better understand the course’s material would help too. Practicing numerous problems for 1-2 hours each day would not only be a good gameplan but something i would recommend to all students. For a difficult course like this, it only can go the better direction if you study more often and understand the topic more. If in some case the topic is difficult then watching math professors online on youtube and reading the textbook would improve, lastly buying the book “D.E for Dummies” would help.

  25. Cristian

    2a) the advices that seemed the most relevant to me is to look over your notes from previous classes like calc 1 and 2. This is because they are pretty much the foundation of being good in differential equations. Also even if you don’t like the subject and only taking it for your major to graduate you should still put in the effort to study and work hard to pass the class.
    2b)Based on the advise the changes I would make right now is pull out my old binders from previous classes and go over my past notes and practice problems so I can improve in the subject and do good in the class.

  26. Cristhian U

    After reading all the comments the advised most relevant to me is having to go over cal 1 and cal 2. Both of these are foundations for this class. If we find ourselves struggling with derivatives and integration, we will simply find it impossible to keep up with the material and after that it’s a downward spiral. Reviewing cal 1 and cal 2 is a MUST!

    The changes I would make to succeed in this course are go over my notes and practice the material as much as i can. I think this is something a lot of us understand but fail to do. The only way to study for math is to practice, practice and practice. Similarly, finding a study group can help out a lot, as we can always learn a lot from each other.

    • Maiqiang

      I agree with you that reviewing cal 1 and cal 2 is a must. as most of the differential equations are base on finding its deliveries and integral. But I also think set up the right study environment that will lead students more willing to study differential will enhance the outcome of education. Finish homework is one element of your success but not everything you need.

  27. Abdel Moussa

    For me there was one very specific comment that stood out the most. It was about homework and waiting for the last minute to do homework and doing it at the crack of dawn. It’s literally three in the morning while I’m doing this assignment, so you could see the irony in this. Another good point brought up was what to do during tests. A lot of posts spoke about not stressing about tests. This is something I do quite often, and end up doing terribly on the test, not because of lack of prep, but simply, stress.
    In the future and hopes of getting an excellent grade in differentials, I will try to do my homework at least three days out. Another thing to keep in mind is to study a week in advance of a test. Let’s face it, if I don’t know it the night before the exam, I probably won’t get it on the test. It’s just the truth. Brushing up on my calculus is a common theme in all these posts. Luckily for me, integration was a sweet pleasure, I hope I’ll be fine. One comment I liked was posted by Rafael, it said “At the beginning I would have liked to have been told that the first lectures would be the hardest and that I should pay attention a lot more.” I tend to daze off a lot in class and have trouble focusing, not anymore.

  28. Juan villacis

    I feel that the advice that most touched me was that I need to brush up on calc 1 and 2 notes. It’s true that once one is done with calc 2 you feel as if your done with math as a whole and once you get to differential equations, you’ll realize your wrong you need those notes. Not everything you learn in previous classes will be right there in front of you in new classes but they will appear in some form. Something that I could do to make sure I pass the course would be to create a paper that has the derivatives and integrals that will help not just in differential equations but rather just help me further more in life. Also if there is a problem that I need the most help on not to be shy and just go strait for tutoring or find some way to get help. It’s never wrong to ask for help.

  29. Maiqiang

    After reading all the comments on the Differential class of 2014, I think some of the most relevant advice to me is that I must recover what is missing in my calculus 1 and 2 classes after a long break in math. And time manage my self, don’t leave the homework to the last minutes because it sometimes hard to type the correct answer that the computer can read. The most important advice, I think is to find the passion of differential in real life, as a young mechanical engineer thinks of the use of differential that can represent in the data.

    Now, I will review some of the most commonly used derivatives and integrals, and some of the trigonometric identity function to enhance my experience in the class and homework. And work on managing my time so I can start the homework early and ask the question if I encountered. And most important look for some the real applications of the differential.

    • julianjimenez

      recovering past knowledge on cal 1 and 2 are def a must. without it, Differential equations will be very troublesome for most.

  30. William Santiago

    Better late than never to reply to this. I’ve read through all of the previous comments made back in 2014. After reading them, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re several factors that would lead to my success in Differential equations. The first of which brings is time management. I’ve found that in the past, along with how the semester has been going so far, I’ve had a hard time setting aside time to complete assignments due to the busy lifestyle I have. Because of this, my performance in terms of in class exams and keeping up with homework has been lack luster to say the least.

    To add on to this, the changes that I’ve been trying to make is to actually set out time to review the material. Because of this, I’ve been able to understand the course material a lot better. It has also helped me out with keeping up with some of the more recent assignments given. If I could go back, I would’ve applied this sooner.

  31. Ronnye G

    Phew looks like I’m going to be the latest person to reply or write a post. But with the experience of the class and all the struggles that came with it, I can definitively say that it is a must to review your Calculus 1 and 2. More so the derivatives because it will come back to bite you in the butt if you don’t end up doing it. But likewise, time management is a huge must. I wasn’t able to coast through this like my other classes and I believe if I had done that I may have been able to have had a better grade or just succeed more in general.

    In general, my semester hasn’t been the very best but to make up for this I started taking time off my free time (which is something I almost never do) and have mad an effort to go to tutoring or request help from Professor Reitz when he ever gave me free time. You’ll find that these changes will give you the confidence you need to succeed in the class.

  32. julianjimenez

    Better late than never. The most important and helpful comment i read was one that stated finding time to study the material covered in the class while at the same time working full time. work can be very stressful and finding time to complete the coursework while still working is a tough thing to do, but necessary is you are in that situation. Having the patience and the drive to do well in the class is also something that you have to set your mind to in order to tackle the task at hand. In my case, i used my lunch break to study the material for the class and the past classes as well. One change i had to make was balancing work and school in a positive way where neither would be affected. lots of late nights are needed.

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