Writing in Calculus

NOTE: I am keeping these pages up as reference for anyone who may be interested in the projects, but I have moved away from using them in most of my classes. I still believe they are valuable for student learning, but they don't fit as well in the current structure of my courses with the weekly WeBWorK, weekly homework, and daily reading assignments. It was especially tough incorporating the writing assignments in our Calculus II course that now includes some multivariable topics.

I expect that I'll come back to these longer writing projects at some point, but now I emphasize to students the importance of clear and precise writing in their explanations on the homework, reading assignments, and exams.

I am co-author (with Annalisa Crannell, Gavin LaRose, and Elyn Rykken) of the MAA book Writing Projects for Mathematics Courses: Crushed Clowns, Cars and Coffee to Go that is available at the bookstore on the MAA website.

These are some of the writing assignments I have used in Calculus during my time at Wheaton. If you use any of these projects, I would appreciate it if you would drop me a note (ratliff_thomas@wheatoncollege.edu) and let me know what you think.

The Logistics of Group Assignments

The students work in groups of two or three on each project and turn in a joint paper approximately a week and a half after the project is assigned. If you would like some background on how I got interested in these projects, I've posted a copy of my article that appeared in UME Trends in September of 1995.

The students are often apprehensive about the grading of group projects, but a system that I've found works really well is that I allow the students in the group to determine the distribution of the points. For example, if a group of three receives an 80 on an assignment, then they have a total of 3 x 80 = 240 points to distribute among themselves. They fill out a form, sign it, and return it to me. For the most part, the students split the points evenly, but as the semester goes on, they are more willing to allocate the points differently. I have used this process for over a decade and have had to mediate only a handful of times.

Assigning Points to Papers

One of the reasons why the calculus projects have been successful is that I use a checklist to grade them. The idea for the checklist came from a very nice article by Annalisa Crannell at Franklin & Marshall College in PRIMUS 4, 3 (1994), 193-201. She also has some of her writing materials on the Web. I have a slightly modified Professor Crannell's Writing Guide (pdf file) to reflect the changes I made in the checklist.