Michael Woodbury

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Apr 2021

Before college, I took Calc 1 and 2 in high school and got perfect scores - but I didn't take the AP credit, so I had to redo it as a freshman. I had the great fortune of having Woodbury my first semester. To this day, it was one of my most difficult classes at Columbia. Calculus 3? No problem, easy A. Calc 1 with Woodbury? B... after the curve. He's a great teacher and highly intelligent. However, the course is more difficult than it needs to be (particularly the exams). I do very high-level math on a daily basis with my major. More days than not im doing pages worth of calculus - and I do it well. Despite that, I would still avoid retaking this class. That said, apparently, his Calc 2 class is really great. Why the difference? IDK but it is what it is. All that in mind, Woodbury woke me up to the realization of college and got my ass into gear. So I'm thankful to him for that.

Jul 2020

Can I just say that if you are considering taking Calc 1 with Woodbury, Don't! He is easily the worst professor ever. Period. He does not know how to teach! He might be passionate, he might want you to learn a lot, he might want to help, but the bottom line is HE CAN'T TEACH! In order to explain a topic, he would take the HARDEST route ever. For example, I took calc in high school and so did most of the class, BUT MOST OF US DID NOT UNDERSTAND LIMIT IN HIS CLASS. After going to the TA, we realized what he was trying to say is not that difficult, but Woodbury just can't explain it well. He has a brilliant mind, but he can't really communicate his brilliance which causes the class to be extremely frustrating. I have not talked to a single student from the class who appreciated his teaching. AND I TALKED TO A LOT OF STUDENTS TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL WAS UP WITH THE HOMEWORK! Talking about homework, they were the worst thing in the world. They were just so complicated, so unnecessary even, that even the TAs and math tutors in Milstein were lost. He says to go to office hours, but when you go, it's the same thing! HE CAN'T EXPLAIN WELL. In classes, there were so many times when we would keep asking him the same questions, and he would be pissed because he just explained it, but his explanation did not make sense so no one understood, and asked the question again, in hopes that he might explain it better the fifth time. He even told us to stop asking questions once because we have asked him the same question for three days straight in class. Now he did have a piazza for class but I didn't find it helpful, cause it was just a repeat of the class, complicated, doesn't-make-sense explanation. He uploads a PDF of the topic we are gonna go over in class a couple of weeks ago and expects you to read and understand the topic before you get to class, but based on my review so far, it should be fairly obvious that those pdfs are the worst explanations ever. Now on another note, his midterms are reasonable, and he is also a fair grader. There are curves so that was nice. He also gives extra credits. He has review sessions that are super helpful for both midterms! If you end up taking the class, definitely attend those. In conclusion, just don't take his class and reduce your life span.

Nov 2019

Appalling does not even begin to describe this class. If you are the type of person that just wants to simply learn calculus and get a good grade, I am literally BEGGING you not to take this class. Please do not do this to yourself. This man simply cannot teach calculus in a simple way. He insisted on teaching us the "theory" behind calculus, which, according to TAs and PhD students, resembles more closely calculus 4 material. You will learn how to prove the squeeze theorem using a unit circle, but not how to use it. I can honestly barely tell you what we have actually learned in class because I still don't really understand the theory. I think he might be allergic to doing actual math because for the entire semester I can probably count on one hand how many actual math problems/concrete examples he did. Our midterms consisted more of short answers describing why you're doing the math rather than actually doing the math. He gave us the questions beforehand and everyone still did so terribly that he offered a regrade. Then he gave us questions for the second midterm and didn't choose from them. I would've been better off not studying at all for that than wasting 5 hours studying his "guide." Unless you really enjoy mathematical theory and want to be required to attend a class that does nothing to further your understanding of how to do calculus, steer clear like the plague. There's just no reason for this. For reference, I will likely get at least an A- in this class because of his hard-on for participation, regrade options, and my decent exam scores, but oh my god it was not worth it.

Jan 2019

I was very happy to ended up in professor Woodbury's class. Profesor Mike is your classical mathematician, you can feel his passion for the subject. He is endlessly patient with questions and will do all he can to help you understand the subject. He will also offer a chance to improve your midterm grades. Basically, a very friendly guy. The class is interesting but requires you to do the work. I'm not sure what else you'd expect, but if you're after a section with the easiest exams, you may want to keep looking. This being said - I very much recommend Calc with prof Woodbury.

Dec 2018

I'm honestly mystified as to why Dr. Woodbury's reviews and course evaluations (accessible on Vergil) are so terrible. His section is by no means the easiest of all Calculus 1 sections, but it's also nowhere near the hardest, he's easy to understand, and he puts a lot of effort into improving the course. He gave us take-home midterm regrade opportunities for both midterms and extra-credit questions on the actual midterms. My understanding is that he usually teaches a few calculus sections each year but his main focus is mathematical pedagogy, and it definitely shows. He created a Piazza question partway through the semester to solicit anonymous feedback and gave very thoughtful responses to everything posted. I would definitely take more math courses with him and would recommend his Calculus 1 section to anyone looking for a reasonable but rigorous review of basic calculus.

Dec 2017

He is easily one of the worst teachers I have had in any subject. He does not introduce new topics, or give lectures on new material. He barely gives out partial credit on exams, and his exams often send a couple people out of the room crying. In additions his exams do not reflect the homework at all, you will look at a problem and be wondering how it's related to anything you've covered so far.

Dec 2017

Do not trust these earlier reviews!!! He was the worst teacher I have ever had. The reviews are all from three years ago before Woodbury's "transformative" trip to Germany. He now only uses a "special method" involving no lectures and spending all of class going over one or two homework problems. Class was not at all relevant to what would be on the tests since he would only focus on 1-2 problems from a 12 problem homework or talk about his research. It was incredibly boring, but if you didn't go you would miss the in class pop quizzes which can kill your grade. Each midterm was absolutely terrible. His midterms are never what you prepare for since he believes you should be "able to put the pieces together to show you understand." The homework took forever and was always not relevant to exams. All the other Calc 1 teachers are better than him. Don't do this class to yourself.

Nov 2017

Michael "Mike" Woodbury is a really nice guy. And impossible teacher. His main teaching style is: do the homeworks/learn the material by yourself and "go over it" in class-- which is really just a waste of time. The homeworks (2 problem sets + 1 webassign/week) are generally not too challenging, but the harshness of the grading really varies. He expects you to know your stuff, and he will force you to think about math. If that sounds good to you, take the class. If you think that sounds good, but then realize you forgot everything you thought you knew about Calc and now want to cry after demolishing into a stress-fueled rage (what? me? never.) then DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. You are not as smart as you thought you were. Look out for your GPA and go take an easier class.

Dec 2014

This class is so much fun! Yes, that's right! Fun in a Math class! And professor Woodbury just makes it even better. It works like that: There is almost no lecture. Each class the students volunteer to solve the homework problems on the board. It doesn't matter if they have or not a perfect solution (in fact it's better when they don't). Then the class would comment the solution, discuss it and get to a better one together. Professor Woodbury would guide this discussion with questions and comments. Then, every week there would be a group homework where each student should do 2 of the problems that were presented that week (or small variations of them). These weekly homework had a more rigorous grading and needed to be typed in LaTeX. Sometimes, when we reached a part of the book with some very complicated concept or homework problems that were too hard, professor Woodbury would give us small lectures about that subject. His explanations were always very clear. Mike is a great professor, very approachable, not only during office hours but also by email and in the Coursework's discussion board. This model of class worked very well for me. However, it is time expendable, since there is homework due every single class (although the problem sets were not long, something around 5 problems per class). All in all, this is a class I really recommend, especially with this professor. :)

Jan 2014

Woodbury is a gifted lecturer and a very friendly person. I found his class to be thorough and quite challenging. Woodbury expertly explained some of the more complicated calc IV concepts such as divergence and curl, and his almost daily repetition of the characteristics of conservative vector fields really helped solidify those ideas for me. I must criticize one of his practices, though. Woodbury likes to try out new things in lecture, so this semester he would pose a question similar to one of the homework exercises in class, and then give students time to solve it. Often, it was the second or third time we'd seen the concept, and so the questions would seem difficult (though to be fair he would usually do an example himself before asking the class questions). After giving students 5-10 minutes to do an exercise (or a few exercises), he would then ask students for answers. Once he heard the correct answer, he would write it on the board, and say something like, "If you weren't able to to get this answer, then come to me after class, or read the textbook more thoroughly." I found this a little redundant. If I had wanted to struggle with exercises myself, I would just have started the homework. I would have really appreciated this new approach if he went back and explained how to do each of the exercises. His approach often left me and other students lost. This doesn't diminish Woodbury's rigorous approach to the material, his enthusiasm, or the level of detail he crams into each lecture. Moreover, Woodbury was eager to help in office hours, and I would recommend that anyone who struggles with the material make an effort to attend them. Calc IV is a difficult subject to study, and when you're tackling everything from surface integrals to triple integrals in spherical coordinates, having a professor like Woodbury to go to in office hours was reassuring. Also, the last three weeks of the course include a survey of complex analysis. While this part does not include WebAssign, the homework assignments for this part of the course are really challenging. Overall I would wholeheartedly recommend Woodbury's section.

Jan 2014

Great class. This was the first time that I attended almost every class of a calculus course at Columbia. Woodbury's explanations are extremely clear and he puts huge emphasis on making students understand rather than memorize the material. He starts on new concepts by drawing parallels from Calculus I, II and III and explaining how the new idea is just an extension of an old idea in many dimensions, vector form, etc. The homeworks and exams require you to understand the material but also to be able to apply it to solve different kinds of problems.Woodbury is also very friendly, makes it a point to get to know every student's name and is willing to provide help when needed. The calculus sequence is normally thought of as a dull requirement that simply has to be done, but I actually really enjoyed this class. Definitely take it with Woodbury if you can.

Dec 2013

Strengthening the previous reviews, Prof. Woodbury is a great guy, good teacher, and very approachable, not common qualities in a math class. Two things to keep in mind: The weekly problem sets, while usually not extremely difficult, were very long, consisting as they were of both online WebAssign problems (7-10 per week) and written assignments (similar). Together, even if you know the material well, these can take many hours, and if you get stuck it can be very frustrating. Then again, the TA and Prof. Woodbury are always there to help. The second and more important point is: the exams are very challenging. Out of the three exams we had, only the second can be considered straightforward; the other two were very involved and, more to the point, necessitated more time than you had. The final included 9 questions, none of which were quick, and some of which had very complicated integrals; that leaves you with an average of 20 minutes per question, which- if you estimate 5 minutes of initial preparation and 10 minutes of writing down the solution- leaves very little room for error. So if you start getting mixed up, you might simply run out of time, something that happened to me on both the first midterm and the final. So, my advice: it's a great class overall, Woodbury's very personable and is a good lecturer (note: if you take the class, try to make a minimal effort to show up and participate, if only to give Woodbury the positive feedback he deserves). However, prepare to invest more in this than you would in a typical computational math class if you want to get a solid grade. In particular, prepare strongly for the tests: do enough problems so that you feel you can answer a typical question not only correctly but quickly. That way, when the actual question comes up, you'll just have to figure out how it fits in to what yove already done you'll be set.

Apr 2013

As far as the Columbia math department goes, Woodbury is a gem. He's young, passionate, interesting, and speaks fluent English. His lectures are interesting, easy to follow, and appropriately paced. He's available for extra help, his tests are reasonably hard without being impossible, and the homework assignments and practice tests are very helpful in terms of test prep. He made the effort to learn literally every student's name (in a class of over 100 students) and sometimes tells funny little stories in the middle of lecture (not too distracting, but often a very nice break). The homeworks are intense (WebAssign as well as a regular written problem set) but are definitely doable. He scales well and drops the lowest few homework grades. I didn't have a strong math background going into the class but was able to follow it with little difficulty and definitely learned a lot.

Dec 2012

Columbia has a lot of intelligent professors, but very few of them are good teachers. Woodbury looks hardly older than a TA, but lectures like he's been teaching for ages. He is a naturally gifted teacher who takes the effort to make sure that every student understands the material. He is approachable and welcomes student participation. There are times when he makes mistakes on the board - please correct him, he'll appreciate it. He may seem to be moving along a little slowly sometimes, but he ensures that he explains every concept in detail so that you understand. This is a good thing. With all the homework and his great teaching, you really don't have to study much for exams. You can tell that he's very passionate about math because he points out neat stuff and shortcuts all the time. Woodbury doesn't like formulas, preferring to derive them on the spot from concepts - this helps boost student comprehension. He is also a very nice person to boot - by the first month of class, he knew almost everyone's name (there were about a 100 of us). The first half of the semester was kind of boring as Woodbury did really basic stuff like vectors, complex numbers, conics and planes. The second half was much more engaging - he covered 3D geometry, quadric surfaces, partial differentiation, etc. The first midterm was painfully easy. The second midterm was hell because it involved a lot of tedious calculations like differentiating a complicated 3 variable function three times and finding it's magnitude to get the normal vector. The final was between the two. Woodbury is a fair grader - not easy, not hard. Homework was heavier than other sections because Woodbury uses WebAssign but not bad. Note that you must purchase the textbook for $110 to get WebAssign. The PDF of Stewart Calculus you got from a friend won't help you here. Woodbury is probably one of the best Calc III professors. I highly recommend taking his class.

Dec 2012

He's a nice guy and really cares about his students; he even learned everyones name within a few weeks (yes, all 100 of us). Nonetheless, he isn't that great of a lecturer. He often provides explanations that are confusing at best. In particular, I remember that he spent one entire lecture going over HW problems instead of new material… He also requires webassign (1 webassign and 1 written hw every week). I find that a lot of his hw problems are very tedious in terms of the amount of pure algebra required (especially when you get to CH 13). However, he drops the lowest 4 hw grades. He posts a practice midterm before each midterm but refuses to provide solutions--he only posts answers. However, he does post solutions to hw sets before each midterm. He also provides a detailed review before each midterm which is VERY helpful. I often find that his typed notes that he ocassionaly posts are much more helpful than his lectures. Exams/HW tends to be returned fairly quickly--1 or 2 class after it is handed in.

Nov 2012

Professor Woodbury is probably one of the best math professors I've had. I shopped several Calc 3 classes before finally deciding to take his class. Although I had to withdraw from his class for personal reasons, I'm very glad I took it for the time I was in it. He's a Native English speaker (always a plus at Columbia), so no worrying about heavy accents here. The notes he puts on the board are very clear and very well organized. Something that I noticed that other professors don't do is that he never uses a method of notation without explaining it to the class, which is very good for students who got AP calculus credit in high school but didn't necessarily learn set notation. He is very good at making himself available to students--he asks for input on when he should have office hours or outside of class review sessions (which he does sometimes!) and he made an effort to know everyone's names. He is also very passionate about math, which makes the class that much more interesting. He gets very excited about the concepts he's teaching and, if someone is juvenile enough to ask what's the purpose of learning this level of math, he will genuinely respond with, "because it's beautiful."

Apr 2012

His lectures are clear but if I got lost I had a hard time catching back up. He makes himself very available and is committed to helping students understand the material. I found the quizzes (every other week or so) difficult even when I understood the material but he's pretty generous about dropping the lowest quizzes and homeworks. Tests are written clearly and fairly, and he's reasonable about adjusting credit on everything if the TAs grade weirdly. He learned the name of everyone in the class quickly, and is a really nice guy.

Jan 2012

If you're looking for a pretty solid professor in the math department whose native tongue is English and can explain things reasonably well, Professor Woodbury is your guy. This was his first semester at Columbia, and he's a young guy who just finished his PhD at Wisconsin, so I'd imagine he's a little inexperienced and can only get better as a professor. You can tell that he really cares and is trying really hard, but sometimes you don't want to hear about line integrals in the complex plane for an hour and fifteen on a Monday morning. This is only problematic because, unlike a lot of other math classes, class is often unskippable: he never mentioned whether we could turn in our weekly problem sets in the box, like most other math classes, and there are six quizzes throughout the semester, which were all pretty easy, but their existence means you have to go to class at least some of the time. On the bright side, he knows everyone's name and is really, really nice and generous with his office hours. And if you're ever up for talking about frisbees and Sufjan Stevens, go to his office hours or just show up to class early. I mostly wrote this review because I want people to feel comfortable that they're not doomed to a hellish semester if they choose to take Professor Woodbury's class.