Homework Expectations

This coming semester I will make a good faith effort to finally attack my oft-stated goal of teaching my students to be better writers of mathematics (and, thereby, better writers in general). To that end, I have prepared a list of Expectations for an Ideal Written Homework Solution, which I will be distributing with the syllabus on the first day of class. The list is perhaps as much for me as it is for the students, to make sure I stay focused on those things I think are important in a written homework solution.

I’ve tried to keep my list of expectations in priority order. First are the mechanical issues that frustrate me the most. I really hate it when students turn in rough draft quality work. If my students have done it in the past, it was because I let them. So that stops now. If I accomplish one thing this semester, it will be to not accept any more un-stapled or obviously slipshod work.

Second on the list of expectations is some stuff about writing in complete sentences, giving adequate explanations, defining notation, and being careful to label all diagrams and tables. Honestly, these are things I stole from one of Mitch‘s problem-solving rubrics. (Sorry, I don’t have the link to the specific file. It must be something Mitch shared over Twitter at some point.)

Third on the list of expectations are the the kinds of mathematical errors I want my students to avoid. Maybe mathematical is the wrong word. These are really logical and notational errors. This section could afford to grow a bit. (I’m teaching Calculus II next semester, hence the items included in this section so far.) I should search on Twitter for the #needaredstamp posts to recall the kinds of errors and omissions everyone was talking about at the end of last semester. When writing this section I also had in mind the discussion going on over at Division By Zero.

Finally, last on the list, is whether or not the final answer is correct.

Even though I’ll give my students the list of expectations on the first day, I don’t think it’ll sink in immediately. I still expect them to make errors as we go along the course, and to make new kinds of errors as we introduce new material and new notation. But I want to give them the opportunity to recognize and correct their mistakes. So I plan to make a habit of letting students rewrite homework assignments, to fix their errors or to improve their explanations. In an English course you can get feedback on a paper before turning in the final draft, so why not with Calculus homework also?

The departmental syllabus calls for using the first five days of class to review material from the very end of Calculus I. Stuff like the definition of the definite integral, how to compute definite and indefinite integrals, and how to integrate using the substitution technique. I want to use this review time to not only refresh all our memories of the things we (should have) learned in the fall, but also to drill in the proper way to write it all. I’m hoping that a day or two spent on good writing habits at the beginning of the course will pay off in the long run.

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4 Comments on “Homework Expectations”

  1. [...] Math Aftermath My Post-PhD Mathematical Adventure « Homework Expectations [...]

  2. Hi there. Just found your blog via your twitter. I got my PhD from UGA, btw.

    I have to say this post cracks me up. I do wish you luck with this. Especially with requirements such as “Pages are neat and clean and free of creases.” I once quickly pulled a page from a 3 ring binder without opening the clasps. It left a little tear by the rings. My professor circled this and said, “Do not do this again.” I laughed about this a lot. But since he earned my respect in so many ways, I let this slide.

    I too once had such lofty goals on formatting and such. I’ve since “let it go” in favor of “new” goals, but here is a relic of my past you may find amusing. This is the sample I used to tell students to adhere to: http://gmichaelguy.com/hmwk411/SampleHomework.pdf

    • christopherdrup Says:

      Well, I’m still young and naive, and inspired by the line from the movie Stand and Deliver, “Students will rise to the level of expectation.”

      • You’ll get them to meet your expectations. And your expectations aren’t that crazy. It just made me laugh to read this. All us mathematicians share some of the same “personality disorders”. I think these requests are just manifestations of some of them. And just so you know, one of my “new” goals is getting at least half the class to arrive on time or within 5 minutes of class time. I never had that problem at UGA, so I have to find fresh solutions…

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