December 31, 1998

Dear Combinatorics student,

I regret that I am unable to attend the first two days of class. I am attending a conference in Texas. I am writing to inform you about this course and to help you get started before I get back from the conference. Since there are no classes on Monday, January 18, I will meet you for the first time at class on Wednesday, January 20.

First, I want to tell you about what you can expect from this course and from me. Since this course is primarily a problem-solving course with very little theory, I see my role mostly as a provider of problems. I expect to provide hints when you need them and to occasionally write up solutions to hard problems. Some of your problem sets consist of several unrelated problems and some are problem sequences, which make little sense out of context. Most of you will have to spend time deciding on your approach. In other words, you will have to 'model' the problem. Often this means putting the problem into a mathematical framework. I expect that you will spend about 4 to 10 hours per week outside class on this course. Reading the book each week is strongly encouraged. Alan Tucker is a great author. I know you will find the text readable. Another recommendation is that you find a group of classmates to form a study group.

This semester I plan, as I have in the past in math 3166, use homework to determine about 60% of your grade. However, since I encourage group problem solving, some students take advantage of others in this process. Therefore, propose to use Fridays as presentation days, calling on you to present your solutions after collecting them at the beginning of the hour. You may plan to use your paper to refer to in your presentation. Do not let this deter you from group work. My experience proves that group work is very profitable even for the most and the least able students. Besides solving problems, talking about the material is important.

This course is likely to differ from math courses you have had previously. The subject matter is relatively elementary. But you are asked to understand it at a very deep level. You will have very little to memorize. You will solve most problems by going back to a few fundamental principles. Sometimes, especially when your group makes only small progress on a problem set, you may feel that you are not learning very much. However, you will find that you understand and remember easily the ideas associated with problems that you've worked hard on, even if you did not finish such problems.

Your assignment for Friday, January 22 is the first two from the assignments page on the web. Go to for a copy of this letter, the assignments, and other important information. Before you leave class today, I urge you to find at least one other student in the class with whom you feel you can work. Before you get together with others to work problems, I urge you to read the first two appendices, A1 and A2, from which your first assignments come.

Thank you for taking this course.

Cheers, Harold Reiter