Matthew Stamps

Assistant Professor of Science (Mathematics)


What is special about teaching at Yale-NUS?

Stamps:   The students.  Our students are remarkably enthusiastic and inquisitive, and I have yet to encounter one who did not genuinely wish to be challenged.  They are involved in a lot of extracurricular activities which make it difficult at times to prioritize their coursework, but when they show up, they work hard and engage earnestly with the material.  This makes it significantly easier to incorporate active learning strategies into my classes.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Stamps:   My teaching style is still evolving.  I try to experiment with as many techniques as I can, but my favorites tend to be those which are heavily student-focused.  I have found that my students perform best when they are able to take ownership over their learning.  To that end, I focus on creating scenarios that can coax them to discover important concepts on their own.  I also try to share at least one beautiful idea in each class meeting.

Can you recall a moment when you knew your class was going well?

Stamps:   During my group theory class last semester, my students conjectured a fundamental result in abstract algebra called Lagrange’s Theorem without me asking them any questions.  I simply prompted them to compute some basic statistics on a few examples with the hope that one or two students might recognize a pattern; instead the class discovered the pattern all together and asked, essentially as a group, if there was something more going on.  It was incredibly gratifying and very effective.  I think one of the shortcomings of modern mathematics education, even among best practices such as inquiry-based learning, is that students are often taught or asked to answer questions they haven’t yet thought to ask themselves.  In the instance I just described, the students were compelled to ask an important question on their own, and that put them in a more viable position to effectively learn the material.  Every student in the class knew that theorem backwards and forwards for the remainder of the course.

What have been some of your best moments teaching at Yale-NUS?

Stamps:   One of my favorite moments teaching at Yale-NUS was when I received the submissions for a writing project I assigned in my conceptual calculus class.  It was the first time I asked students to write a paper for an introductory-level math course and, I believe, it was the first time the students had been assigned a writing project in any math class.  The experiment was an overwhelming success:  Most of the papers were very well written, neatly organized with key points emphasized, and overall visually aesthetic.  In some instances the explanations were better than those in the course text.  It was the first tangible confirmation I had that Yale-NUS is doing something really special; our students (even those who are not planning to major in science) can read scientific writing and communicate important concepts in a clear and effective manner.

What is the biggest challenge in regards to teaching?

Stamps:   My biggest challenge with teaching, especially at a school like Yale-NUS, is capitalizing on the wealth and variety of ideas generated by my students.  There is a tremendous opportunity to thrive in this kind of close-knit international community, but there are also many cultural, generational, and experiential differences that can affect one’s ability to learn.  I am often overwhelmed trying to find a common framework from which to begin since something that may seem perfectly logical and clear to me could appear completely irrational and opaque to someone with a different background.  I would be very happy to hear any constructive thoughts or advice on this.

What do you wish you knew about teaching when you started that you know now?

Stamps:   Ask me again in a year or two.