Department of Mathematical Sciences
Binghamton University

Math 386 Course Information

Fall 2011

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Tom Zaslavsky
Office: LN 2231
Office phone: 777-2201

Office hours (no appointment necessary):

(No regular office hours during finals week.) M W F 3:30–4:30 and W 5:30–6:00
If you need to see me at another time, please make an appointment. I will usually have time to see you.

Review Session

Date: Sunday, Dec. 11
Time: 4:00-6:00
Room: LN-2205
I plan to be in my office Tues., Dec. 13, 3:00-4:30, to return homeworks and tests (if you didn't get yours at the review session), answer questions, etc. (My office is small and there won't be any other place to go, so it won't be convenient for many people at one time.)


Date: Wednesday, 12/14
Time: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Room: S2-145


Miklós Bóna, A Walk Through Combinatorics, 3rd edition.
World Scientific, Hackensack, N.J., 2011.

See the descriptive flyer (PDF). See the book's Web page.
If ordering from, be careful to get the THIRD EDITION. Amazon may direct you to the 2nd edition, which will not be suitable for the course. If you go lower on their page, you'll find the third edition.
Also, if ordering on line, be aware that the book often does not arrive when promised. You are likely to have no textbook for more than a week.

We will cover several chapters of the book, beginning with Chapters 1-4. (See the syllabus.)


The Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences is a source for information on any sequence of numbers you might happen to think of or come up with. Almost all of them are mathematical but there are also the Manhattan subway-stop sequences and other oddities. Click on the link and follow the directions!


Math 304 and either 314 or 330. If you don't have these requirements, see me at once.

Grading System

There will be 500 600 course points.
Tests (W 10/5 M 10/10, W 11/2, Tu 12/6):       100 points each.
Final Exam (W 12/14):			       150 points.
Homework:   for handing in assignments,    	40 points,
	    for quality of homework,	 	70 points.
Class participation:			  	40 points.
The tests are held in class (dates above). The final exam date is Wed., Dec. 14 (see above). Each test will cover the topics that we covered up to the time of the test and since the last test. The final exam is comprehensive but with extra attention to topics covered after the last test.
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We meet M, Tu, W, F. Attendance is expected every day. Discussion is a big part of the course. Tuesdays are not optional, no kidding! In fact, they are especially important.

Test Policy

You are responsible for everything covered in class and for all assigned readings and problems. NO MAKEUPS will normally be allowed on quizzes (if any) or class tests, but I will use my discretion. If you miss a test be prepared to document the reason. No early finals under any circumstances. If you have a question about any grade, you must see me before the next test. There may or may not be quizzes, and they may or may not be announced in advance.

Advice about tests (and good for homework too): Often there are several ways to solve a problem. Some may be faster than others. Your ability to find efficient solutions will be a factor in taking tests. If you find inefficient, long solutions to some problems, you may not have enough time to finish a test. This is not speed, it is knowing how to find good ways of solving problems. You develop this by practice. Keep it in mind!


Most problems will not be graded; they will be discussed in class (as time allows), usually one or two days a week. (You may ask about any problem, not necessarily assigned--again as time allows.) I'll specify a few hand-in problems that will be collected and some graded; they will not be discussed until after they are returned. Normally (but not always) discussion will begin Wednesday, hand-ins will be due by the beginning of class on Friday (in class) and returned Monday or Tuesday. I NEVER ACCEPT LATE HW. (Early HW is fine. You may leave it in my mailbox or on the door of my office any time before the deadline. Not under my door, please!)

HW grading system: Each problem gets 4 "HW points" (with an occasional exception).

4 HW points for a complete and correct solution.
2-3 for a nearly correct solution or a good partial solution.
1 for a very partial solution or a good start.
0 for no work, a poor start, or an unsupported answer.

I expect all answers to be fully justified (unless my instructions say otherwise). A ``HW point'' is worth about 0.1 course point, so don't worry about a point on the homework, but do worry if you don't understand how to solve the problem or how it was graded! Then come and discuss it with me.

See the homework rules.

General advice on homework problems

Besides finding the answer, always try to explain, as well as you can, how you know you have the correct answer.

When solving problems, a systematic solution is better than guesswork. You often may find a solution by intelligent guessing, but then you should look for a way of showing that your solution is correct. This part needs to be systematic if it is to be completely convincing. (This will be clearer after a few days of class!)

Allow 15 minutes per problem (minimum) before you give up, even if you feel you're getting nowhere. These problems need time for thought. If you're still stuck, go on to another problem. Return to the sticky problem later (say, the next day). Often, it then looks easier because you tried hard the first time and then gave your mind time to grind it up – I mean, to come up with ideas. To get the advantage of this method, you have to start the problems well ahead of time. Last-minute effort will not work well in this class.

Rules for hand-in homework

  1. Hand in a final draft: neat work that is well organized and not cramped. Use as much space as you need.
  2. You may discuss hand-in HW with other people, but you must write it up in your own words. If you don't use your own words you will get 0 or worse.
  3. If you find any online help, tell me and give me the URL. Anything else is officially considered academic dishonesty (!).
    The same applies if you find help in a book or other publication: give me the title and author (both) and preferably also the date of publication and the pages or section.
    But don't be afraid to look in books or on line! It's okay! Just be sure to give the source and write in your own words.
  4. No little stubbies from tearing a page out of your binder. Remove them neatly, please!
  5. Staple the pages securely. Folding the paper over and/or tearing it is no good (not secure); paper clips and tape don't hold well.

Homework Explanation

The book gives a set of "Exercises" whose solutions appear later in the chapter, and then "Supplementary Exercises" that don't have solutions in the book. I will assign both kinds.
  1. "Exercises": These are for you to practice using the methods in the book—and your ingenuity. We'll discuss them in class. Try them without looking at the printed solutions. See how well you can do. If you get stuck, you can look at the solution in the book, but after that, close the book and try again. You'd be surprised how hard it can be to solve the problem after reading a solution. If you don't do this, you won't learn so well and you'll lower your own grade. Believe it!
  2. "Supplementary Exercises": We'll discuss some of these in class; and I'll assign some of them to write up and hand in. These are where you find out whether you used the "Exercises" effectively as learning tools.

Class Presentation

I expect everyone to present HW problems in class. (If you have any problem with this, please see me soon to make alternative arrangements.) You need not be correct, but you must have made a good try. If you are absent or not ready the first time I call you, I'll call on you the next week.
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