Norwegian mathematics

Saturday 16 April 2005 at 10:58 pm | In Articles | 7 Comments

I have been teaching Norwegian students for some years; every year it’s a new group but every year they are a pleasure to teach. Since we follow their syllabus the textbook is in Norwegian, which is fine for most mathematics but probability questions can be challenging; just a subtle change in wording can change the resulting probability.

Mathematics is a fairly universal language but there are occasional differences in Norway. In classes for British students I often use . or × for multiplication as in 3!=1.2.3 or 3!=1 \times 2 \times 3, but Norwegians use · as in 3!=1 \cdot 2 \cdot 3 and using the ‘wrong’ notation always produces complaints. Vectors are written as \vec{v} rather than \underline{v}, and the typed bold letter \mathbf{v} is not used.

Other interesting differences in symbols in the textbook are:

    \vec{e}_x,\vec{e}_y for the unit vectors \underline{i},\underline{j}
    < \leftarrow,0> for the interval from -\infty to 0
    In differentiation, function notation is used but I have never before seen it used as in \left(x^8\right)^\prime=8x^7 or 12\,^\prime=0
    The solution of x^2+3x+2=0 is written x=2 \vee x=3

Of course, I am assuming it’s not just the book I’m using, but as the students are comfortable with the notation I expect it’s common in Norway.

The exams are interesting. They are much longer than in the UK lasting 5 hours, so they can only have 1 exam per day. But what is really fascinating, is that to maintain national standards, externally set exams are only sat by selected students, chosen in a lottery. The students only get short notice of whether or not they have been selected and the external exam mark supersedes any internal exam marks. Different selections are made for each subject.

The standard of mathematics they have to learn is roughly equivalent to A level, but the standard of behaviour, willingness to learn and participation is far superior! They study more subjects than is common in the UK and not only do they all know who Niels Henrik Abel was, but even know his most famous result (insolubility of a quintic). Impressive. How many British students can do the same for any British mathematician? They get taught multiplication tables up to 20, which is twice as far as here in the UK and further than the 12 in my day.

Question: Can you name any other famous Norwegian mathematicians? One of them is well known for theorems in group theory. Answers below

Answer: Sylow plus 9 others are listed at Mathematicians born in Norway. Lie and Skolem should be familiar names to university mathematics students.


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  1. Very interesting. Most of the notations you mentioned are fairly intuitive. For intervals, the weirdest notation I have seen is ]0,1] , for the half open unit interval. (0 is excluded)

    Comment by tpc — Sunday 17 April 2005 3:37 am #

  2. The Open University uses ]0,1] but I am more used to (0,1]

    Comment by Steve — Sunday 17 April 2005 10:28 am #

  3. Well, most wierd thing for me to know was that although there are quadratics in the syllabus there is not any mention about the Viet’s theorem. In my opinion explaining the theorem would have done the life much easier!!! Many students find it difficult to factorise or to use the discriminant… 🙂

    Comment by Puzich — Thursday 28 April 2005 1:04 pm #

  4. The thread’s old but I’ll add my comment anyway. In Quebec, Canada, ]0,1] is the standard notation. At least I have never seen it written otherwise, and I just did Calculus I and II. (I can’t and shouldn’t speak for the rest of Canada, as the barrier created by languages probably is a factor in the use of different notations.)

    Comment by John — Monday 8 August 2005 4:07 am #

  5. It’s interesting to see your comments on Norwegian students. It’s nice to read that you find Norwegian students a pleasure to teach! The media write a lot of the hopeless lack of knowledge in maths – it’s good to see that that isn’t true for all Norwegian students…

    On notation: I’m used to i and j (and k) for the unit vectors (with an arrow on top) in the (Norwegian) textbook I’ve used, although I’ve also seen e_x and e_y used as you mention.

    Comment by Bjørn — Saturday 26 November 2005 10:35 pm #

  6. The students mainly come from Ulsrud school in Oslo. If you look hard on the site you’ll see photos of our visit to the school in 2003 🙂

    Comment by Steve — Saturday 26 November 2005 10:44 pm #

  7. ]0,1] is logical. The ] blocks the 0 and hence the 0 is excluded. But 1 is inside the ] and so is part of it.

    Comment by Luc — Friday 31 March 2006 5:57 pm #

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