One of the central goals of the course is that you improve your ability to communicate mathematics clearly, both in writing and verbally. Learning to write precise and complete mathematical arguments is a challenging endeavor that you will refine over your undergraduate career. However, the process will not only aid your mathematical development but can also greatly improve your clarity of thought in other disciplines as well.
I firmly believe that one of the best ways to build your understanding of mathematics is to explore the ideas
with other students. Therefore, I encourage you to discuss the assignments with other students, but your solutions should represent your understanding of the problems. If you do work with another student on an assignment, you should indicate that in a note on the top of your paper.
Format for the Write-ups
I have high expectations for the organization and presentation of your Problem Sets. I am not being
unnecessarily annoying about this. Learning to carefully organize your thoughts and clearly communicate them is
one of the most important skills you will learn in college.
- You should put your name and date on the first page of each assignment.
- Clearly label each problem, and the problems should appear in order in your solutions.
- Leave enough empty space on your solutions for me to make comments.
- Your writing must be clear and legible. Use complete sentences to justify your arguments where appropriate.
- Do not turn in the first draft of your solutions. Expect to rewrite and polish your Problem Sets. I strongly
suggest you write up your solutions using pencil so that you can more easily correct mistakes, but if you do
use a pen, there should be no scratch-outs.
- A list of answers without explanation is not acceptable and will be graded accordingly.
- If part of your Problem Set is in a Mathematica notebook or spreadsheet, then the same rules apply: Make sure the notebook or spreadsheet
is organized and clearly labeled.
- All of this may be summarized by what I have come to identify as the transitive property of happiness in grading: The neater and better organized your assignment is, the happier I am while grading it, and therefore,
the happier you will be when it is returned.
- Remember that we are operating under the Wheaton Honor Code. You must cite
your sources, and if you are ever uncertain if something is allowed, then please ask me!
Evaluation of Problem Sets
You should always have a target audience in mind whenever you write. Here is a good rule of thumb to follow for
your Problem Sets:
Write your solutions so that you could hand them to a sophomore-level math student with a background in the course content and she
would be persuaded that your solution is correct and that your conclusions are believable.
There are three types of errors* that frequently occur:
- A computational error occurs when a mathematical computation is carried out
incorrectly, either by hand or by computer. For example, solving \( x^3 = 8\) to obtain \(x=3\) is a
- A conceptual error occurs when one of the concepts from the course is applied
incorrectly or the solution/proof is not complete.
- An error in communication occurs when the solution is not well-organized or
fully justified for the target audience. In particular,
- The solution should not omit any parts that contribute to the solution and would not be obvious to the
target audience. If you are in doubt about what counts as "obvious" relative to the target audience, please
- The solution should be concise and not include any information that is not relevant to the solution.
* Thanks to Robert Talbert at Grand Valley State University for this classification of types of errors.
Each problem will be graded on a scale of 0-7 with the following criteria:
- 7: Exceptional. Shows complete conceptual understanding. May contain a minor computational error.
- 5: Essentially complete with no significant errors of any of the above kinds and the number of minor errors
is minimal. That is, a small number of minor errors can be tolerated as long as they do not cast doubt on your
understanding of the concepts.
- 3: Significant conceptual or communication errors.
- 1: Needs substantial improvement in all areas.