MATH.4200-301 Honors Mathematical Problem Solving
MATH.5200-201 Mathematical Problem Solving

Fall 2020

Instructor: Prof. K. Levasseur --


This will be a virtual class. I will be recording this class for pedagogical purposes so students can have access to materials previously presented. If you have concerns about this, please reach out to me privately.

You will be expected to attend the Zoom meeting each week. The class will meet online on Tuesdays, 3:30 - 6:15 PM, but if you take this course, you must also be available from 10AM to 6 PM on Saturday December 5, 2020 to compete in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. This will be your final exam for the course.

As the semester is about to start, this update appeared:

81ST PUTNAM COMPETITION UPDATE Due to the coronavirus crisis, most students in the US and Canada are unable to return to campuses this fall. Therefore, the 81st Putnam Competition, originally scheduled for Fall 2020, will be postponed until February 20, 2021. If most students can return to campuses in the spring, the competition on that date can go forward in much the same form as in previous years. On the other hand, if most students are unable to return to campuses in the spring, the competition on that date will proceed in an unofficial mode, with no proctors, no prizes, no awards, but with solution papers submitted for grading by participants themselves and scores reported back privately to the individual participants.

The February Putnam will not be part of the course, although students will be encouraged to compete for their own benefit. Course adjustment will be announced soon.


The main focus of the course will be to solve interesting, challeging mathematics problems. Here is one of the problems from the 2013 competition:

Recall that a regular icosahedron is a convex polyhedron having 12 vertices and 20 faces; the faces are congruent equilateral triangles. On each face of a regular icosahedron is written a nonnegative integer such that the sum of all 20 integers is 39. Show that there are two faces that share a vertex and have the same integer written on them.


There will be no required text for the course. However there are many resources, including free online ones. Here is a partial list.

Course Requirements, Grading

To earn a grade in this course you will need to do the following:

  1. Attend classes. Unless you have valid medical or legal excuse for missing a class, you will be considered absent. You get one free absence, and then your starting grade will be moved down the list {A, A-, B+, B, B-,...}. Your starting grade will then be the highest possible grade you can earn in the course, assuming you do "A" work for everything.
  2. Participate. 40% of your grade will be based on your participation and effort both inside and outside of the class. This includes engagement in discussions on the course's Piazza page.
  3. Work independently on problems. There will be problems assigned for work outside of class. Your work on them will represent 30% of the final grade.
  4. Compete. You must compete in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition on December 2. Competing is 20% of the grade. We will meet on Wednesday, December 11 to "debrief."
  5. Reflect. The final requirement for the course will be to write up a reflection on the course and the competition. In this 3-5 page paper, you can describe your efforts, preferably highlighting one of the Putnam problems. In addition, you can comment on what you've learned about mathematics and the problem solving process. This will count for 10% of the course and will be due Monday, December 16 at noon.

Academic Integrity Policy

All students are advised that there is a University policy regarding academic integrity.  It is the students' responsibility to familiarize themselves with these policies. Students are responsible for the honest completion and representation of their work. Link to the Academic Integrity Policy

Student Mental Health and Well-being

We are a campus that cares about the mental health and well-being of all individuals in our campus community, particularly during this uncertain time. If you or someone you know are experiencing mental health challenges at UMass Lowell, please contact Counseling Services, who are offering remote counseling via telehealth for all enrolled, eligible UMass Lowell students who are currently residing in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I am also available to talk with you about stresses related to your work in my class.

Disability Services

If you have a documented disability that will require classroom accommodations, please notify me as soon as possible, so that we might make appropriate arrangements. Please speak to me during office hours or send me an email, as I respect, and want to protect, your privacy. Visit the Student Disability Services webpage for further information.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Classroom Community Standards

UMass Lowell and your professor value human diversity in all its forms, whether expressed through race and ethnicity, culture, political and social views, religious and spiritual beliefs, language and geographic characteristics, gender, gender identities and sexual orientations, learning and physical abilities, age, and social or economic classes. Enrich yourself by practicing respect in your interactions, and enrich one another by expressing your point of view, knowing that diversity and individual differences are respected, appreciated, and recognized as a source of strength.