Possible writing assignments

In an attempt to organize myself for the fall semester course I tried to write down some of the ideas circulated in the today’s seminar, discussed in Bean’s book and also from my own experience. Here are the assignments structured by week:

1.Week 1.

I would start my class with the following question: What do you expect from this class? (5-10min).

To foster an environment where students become more independent and learn how to teach themselves I will also recommend them to create double entry notebooks as described by John Bean on page 108 of his book. This is particularly useful for students in sciences and engineering who need to question the physical phenomena behind the mathematical formulas and prove them.

2. Week 2

Assign a short essay about electronics & art with a possible field trip to MOMA. If a field trip is to be organized I would ask the students to relate what they have seen and learned during the field trip to what they are currently learning in the classroom and also how it relates to their personal interests.

3.  Week 3

I would assign the students group projects which should be presented in both oral form (in front of the class) and written report. Their colleagues will have to comment (critique) on their findings

4. Week 4

I will also assign them to read at least one paper related to the course material and ask them to summarize it, find positive things and negative points about the paper, make connections between the paper and what they learn in the class etc.

5. Week 5

I would encourage them to apply for internships and prepare the essays required in the application process.

If the course has a lab component I would insist on having the students write more on their conclusion part (the students will be prompted to the ideas that should be discussed here). Best reports would be posted on bb or the open source website.

6. Week 6

In the middle of the semester, when the students are already comfortable with the course material I would ask them: Where do you think “the main topic of the course” (for example: AutoCAD or the parallel electric circuits or a logic gate) is used outside your field of study? Students will be encouraged to make connections between the topics discussed in their classes and others offered in different majors.

7. Week 7

Assign homework questions in which students are required to synthesize and use more critical thinking than simply replacing numbers in mathematical formulas.

8. Week 8

Ask students to comment in writing about a social controversy in engineering. For example students would be asked to discuss global warming due to anthropogenic sources versus biogenic sources or if the wars helped with the developments in engineering.

9. Week 9

It is my intention to invite a guest speaker to lecture in one of the classes. If a guest speaker is participating in the class I would ask the students to talk about how useful was this particular lecture, what did they like most etc etc

10. Week 10

Organize a field trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard? where students will get exposed to the technology existing there.

11. Week 11

At the end of the semester I would ask the students to reflect on what they have accomplished in the class and if this meets or exceeds the expectations they had at the beginning of the semester.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Possible writing assignments

  1. Jonas Reitz says:

    Thanks so much for creating this blog post — you generated so many great ideas and reading them was inspiring (it makes me want to try them!). I did not have such a wealth of ideas as you, but I did have one which I was exciting (and is not yet fully formed — I can feel it churning around in my subconscious even now). One of the biggest challenges in mathematics, especially at the level that falls under the “general ed” umbrella, is student engagement. There are many things in mathematics that I find fascinating — but they are not necessarily the things in our first-year course. In our work today, I had a very freeing idea: it might be worth spending a bit of precious classtime to introduce students to some of the ideas that I love, even if they are not in the syllabus. I am thinking of setting aside a bit of time, even just 5-10 minutes at the start of class, and using it to talk about some mathematical ideas that are somewhat out of the realm of students’ usual conception of “math”. What does this have to do with Bean, and writing, and so on? I’m not sure exactly, except that our work on informal writing, writing as a tool for engagement, and breaking down assumptions about “what writing is” got me excited about breaking the rules. However, there are perhaps some great opportunities here — I love the idea of using freewrites and I realize that the topic and the framing of the prompt are of paramount importance. Asking them to freewrite on “why algebra is important” seems doomed to fail. But if I can catch their attention and get them thinking (wondering!) about a new idea, then the right prompt could really set them off.

    Sample topics (not necessarily writing prompts):

    A. Which are there more of, whole numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, … or even numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, … ?

    B. Can making a walking path through this city (include a map) that crosses each of the city’s seven beautiful bridges exactly once? (this is a famous problem that led to the creation of a new area of mathematics called graph theory)

  2. Viviana says:


    As I said in the seminar, writing is far from being the general education goal. Yes, it is one of the gen ed components and can trigger the other ones (thinking, etc) but it is far from what I believe general education means. So I think that your idea is great! By introducing the students to ideas you “love” you bring passion into the course and you make the students wonder about what else could be there to explore. You wake them up to the world outside the syllabus and unconsciously push them to want to know more (maybe get into philosophy, the number theory…). It just crossed my mind: why don’t you ask them to read Fermat’s Enigma (by Simon Singh), which is a great book! By doing this you ask them to read (gen ed?), ask them to write a summary (gen ed?), feel the passion I was telling you about earlier and encourage them to learn more outside the classroom (gen ed), etc
    Your idea is great, I’ll definitely use it in the class too.

  3. Daniel Alter says:

    Hello Vivian and Jonas,

    Thank you both for organizing these magnificent ideas. Thinking about our last meeting led me to some interesting revelations. The nature of our courses are very discipline specific and must be carefully disseminated, however general education can and certainly should be utilized to reinforce and support much of materials we are obligated to deliver. I read Jonas write about things he “loves” and that sparks a light bulb in my head. So I decided to engage in an experiment and introduce a general education component into a midterm I am giving an upper level class this semester. I simply open a Discussion Board on BB and had every student post a thread answering a question of what they think Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing and how would it effect their future. I also required for each to comment on at least two other classmates threads in order to get full credit. Although it just started, there is a warm hum around the discussion board. I checked in twice already and can’t believe how excited the students are communicating their ideas and thinking and truly understanding what CAD/CAM means for them and the world they are in. VERY COOL.

    I intend on having more of these type of discussion boards or blogs, which would be better delivered on the digital platform the title V grant is working on. I recall someone mentioning a post class write up, consisting of questions and thoughts, which may be a wonderful venue for the blog, where the student questions won’t be open ended but rather answered by myself or better yet by fellow students. I also am looking forward to instituting some writing assignments which I am actively exploring with Sean’s kind help. A cross disciplinary blog may be another venue in the works to engage students to think and write general education.

    On the onset I was very confused as to how general education can and will play a role in my professional specific discipline. I now have a better grasp as to what I would like to introduce to my freshman level students and can honestly tell you I am excited and looking forward to getting these activities back from the students.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *