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I'm in process of teaching certain skills related to research in graduate school to my juniors. One of them is using LaTeX for writing reports, articles, presentations etc. Students so far have been comfortable with editing existing .tex files. For building their confidence, I intend to give them certain challenging exercises, which involves commonly used packages. I would welcome any suggestion in this regard. Any of you , who already offer a "course" in latex, I'd welcome sharing your ideas on this. If you have written .tex code, which you found challenging, I'd appreciate if you share it with us.

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Want some really challenging problems? How about the unanswered questions in this site? :) There are also a lot of challenging, beyond-me questions in this site that were already solved. Have fun browsing. –  hpesoj626 Mar 19 '13 at 4:54
    
I want to cover a broad spectrum of issues that one run into commonly. Many questions here are narrowed down to pretty specific things –  zimbra314 Mar 19 '13 at 4:59
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What about giving them files that either (i) produce a bad-looking pdf (as @Marc suggested below) or (ii) contain errors and hence do not compile at all? –  mbork Mar 19 '13 at 6:42
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2 Answers

Before I start, let me say that one of my favourite pieces of music is Zimbra from the Talking Heads:-)

I've taught LaTeX to different crowds of people for a couple of years. I have some lecture slides on line, which may be useful.

My main advice is that you keep the number of packages the students have to know as small as possible.

One other advise is to avoid (just) setting them challenges in the form of "reproduce this". If possible, you should give them exercises in the form of "this is an existing (poor) example; how would you improve it?" The main advantage is that you let them think about what they want, what is needed, and how to achieve it with LaTeX.

In the past I've set assignments where I let the students typeset a biography of a famous mathematian. I just gave each student a different URL, told them they could copy and paste the text but should make sure all cross-references and citations were done properly.

I've also asked them to reproduce pictures of animals with TikZ, and typeset a literature review with LaTeX. With a bit of imagination you can come up with different exercises for different students.

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Yeah, I guess you're right, there's no point in "retaliating" with TikZ answers. I was getting a bit frustrated with the many (often very quick) PSTricks answers, without any introductory sentence, but I think this is a good opportunity for me to just practice giving less of a damn =) –  Jake Apr 20 '13 at 10:06
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Perhaps writing Macros is an option. For instance a very common "problem" is the following:

You want to make a course where certain terms appear in the index. Give a macro so you only have to type the term once and it appears both in the course and the index.

Another one:

Make a macro that helps you writing a usecase.

A friend wrote his own at http://www.tomdesair.com/blog/2012/04/latex-template-for-use-cases/

Other examples:

  1. Write a macro that given a set of binary values, produces an image (generated by TikZ for instance) that is a truth-table with the binary values

  2. Write a package where one specifies his/her information and the package turns it into a nice Curriculum Vitae (CV)

  3. Write a macro that does some bookkeeping: each time a certain command is executing something is written to a file, at the end of the LaTeX document, the content of the file is analysed and statistics are printed (for instance average word length,...)

  4. Write a script that given some numerical data, the LaTeX command executes the GNUPlot program though Shell (LaTeX has Shell access if you specify this), generates a plot of that data and stores it in a pdf. Finally that pdf is included into the report generated by LaTeX.

  5. ...

I think writing macro's are a challanging because they ask the students to think on a level where one can expect a variety on input (if you ask for a specific result, some students can come up with "hacky" solutions who only work because the word in this or that table has less than 5 characters,... I think a course only really succeeds when students stop hacking and do things the proper way). Furthermore the result is quite useful, since the students can use their macros afterwards in real life.

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