Further Adventures as a Student: MST121, MS221 and M255

Posted in Maths and Open University on Monday, the 23rd of March, 2009.

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Back in September of last year, I started studying part-time, for a BSc in Maths, with some computing thrown in. It's now six months since I made that first post, and this is a really, really busy phase of the degree course, so I thought it might be time for an update.

Until recently, I was just following the one course, MST121: Using Mathematics, but now I have a few months of overlap between MST121, MS221: Exploring Mathematics and M255: Object-Oriented Programming with Java. That's three courses at once, which has turned out to be quite ambitious, but I think I'm coping.

MST121: Using Mathematics

This is a level 1 course. These are designed to be roughly the equivalent of a first-year undergraduate course, but in practice I think this one is a bit less advanced than that. It takes a vaguely "applied" approach to maths, in that there is a running theme of mathematical modelling, but that's really just an excuse to learn and do some maths. That's fine with me, as it's what I'm here for!

There are four blocks, each of which is assessed by an assignment.

The first TMA was due on the 19th of November last year, and covered various algebraic techniques. That one has been marked and returned, and I managed to achieve 93%, which was a really encouraging start.

The second was submitted in January and covered matrices, vectors, sequences and Sigma Notation, and some other bits and bobs, all of which could be loosely described as "discrete modelling". That seemed to go ok, and I actually managed to scrape a 100%. I won't get used to it!

The latest TMA, submitted a week or two ago, covered "continuous modelling", which basically means calculus: differentiation, integration and differential equations.

This is by far the hardest part of MST121, and sadly was also the worst-taught part. Where the rest of the course was really clearly explained and illustrated, this was just thrown at us. Needless to say, the TMA which covered this block was a real challenge. It took months, and I was thoroughly fed up of it by the time it was over. But I got there, and I think I might have done ok. I'll find out in week or so's time.

All that's left of the coursework for MST121 is to finish off the final block, which covers probability and no doubt some rudimentary statistics. I did a fair bit of that as a Linguistics undergrad at Edinburgh, so I'm not too worried about it. There will be a CMA covering that block, plus a final CMA and TMA covering the whole course.

Those last three have to be submitted within a month of each other, so I'm keen to get started on them as soon as I can.

MS221: Exploring Mathematics

This course started in February, and is a level 2 course, which means it's supposed to be a bit harder. So rather than teach you how to do stuff, then assess you on it, they seem to teach you how to do stuff, then assess you on some other, related stuff. That was a bit of a culture shock after MST121, but as long as you have your wits about you, it's all manageable.

So far the course has covered second-order linear regression sequences, conics, translations and some miscellaneous things you can do with functions, including trigonometric ones.

I can't divine a theme there at all, and this may be why, to me, the course seems less focused than MST121. It's a lot more like listening to a grandparent waffle on about some bewildering yet mildly impressive things that you can do with numbers.

I'm currently working on the first TMA, which I'm just over 80% of the way through. It has been going ok, but I'm a little stuck on the remainder. Luckily it's not due in for another couple of weeks.

Following that, there are three more TMAs and a real exam. This worries me a little, as I have absolutely no memory for any of this stuff. Still, this wasn't supposed to be easy, I guess.

M255: Object-oriented Programming with Java

This is a required course for my particular degree, which at first seemed like a shame. I learned Java years ago as an MSc student at York, and while my knowledge of that particular language is a little rusty, as a professional developer, I don't feel that I need a refresher course in how to write a for loop.

Having said that, the first TMA was slightly more involved than I expected, and it was fun to churn out a bit of code in a less familiar language. I don't think I'll be choosing to go back to compiled languages any time soon though: life's too short.

Later on the course introduces JUnit, which does actually interest me, but for now the biggest danger with this one is that I get too blasé about it, and slip up on the basics.

The Future

Right now I just need to keep my head down and steadily plod through the assignments. I have a vague plan that I'll get the two other quite basic non-optional computing courses done over next winter, and follow that with the big one, M208: Pure Mathematics from the spring of 2010.


Posted by Keith on Monday, the 13th of April, 2009.

Hi, great to see someone doing the same courses as me.

I started MST121 and MS221 at the same time as you and plan to do M255 in October, followed by M208 in January.

I've no idea how you're juggling MST121, MS221 and M255 at the same time - the two maths courses are consuming ALL my free time as it is, having come from a background of a maths O level in 1986 and nothing since...

So, fair play to you...

Have to agree about the calculus in block C of MST121 - I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to understand it and complete the TMA. The course materials were far from clear to me - I prefer the MS221 approach of defining clearly and quickly then getting on with it, even though the first MS221 TMA was a little "abstract".

Section D of MST121 is proving to be my nemesis - it's easy but so dry I really am struggling to finish it - 3 CMA questions left to go.

On a week's break at the mo, so also hoping to finish MST121's final TMA (and maybe CMA) so I can concentrate on MS221.

Worried about the exam even though we can use the handbook - I understand stuff pretty quickly but need some nootropics to improve memory, that's for sure.

Anyway, enough rambling, I'm just about to watch a Stanford Uni tutorial on java programming to see if I do really want to do M255. Downloaded Eclipse and the latest Java software from Sun but have never programmed in any language before - the concept is entirely alien.

Managed to get the computer to write "Hello" and that's about it.

Suppose I should use BlueJ rather than Eclipse, but the tutorials I've found use Eclipse so I'll have to learn the basics, then swop editors/compilers early on.

Will pop by regularly to check this blog.

Nice one.

Posted by Stan on Friday, the 10th of December, 2010.

very interesting discussion - I'm trying to decide whether to commit to
MST 121 - got a few days left to decide

Posted by Graham on Tuesday, the 17th of January, 2012.

Hi there, I complete ms221 last year after a second re-sit of the exam, which I only passed through subsitution!. (average tma mark was 75%) My past experience of maths stopped with a CSE1 in 1981. Both 121 and 221 are just as you describe regarding themetics, however as long as you put the time into the tma's there very doable - the forum was a fantastic help. Exams,,practice these as much as you can. Get the past papers and hammer your way through them, not forgetting to annotate your handbook (according to whats allowed in guidelines). Repeat last bit of advice ad nauseum. Personally, proof and induction was beyond me (D4 221) and i'm still going through the booklets tackling some of the solutions for enlightenment,,but it ain't working still. Best of luck, Grey

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