Writing Projects in Mathematics

In many courses, I ask my students to write about mathematics. This may be rather informal, such as a paragraph on an assignment or quiz. On other occasions, it may occur in the form of a writing project, in which students spend 1-3 weeks applying their mathematics knowledge to a "practical" problem. Or it may form a course project, often at the end of the semester to cap what they have mastered in our course. Below, I offer examples of these projects from the last few years.

Writing Projects for Calculus

Class Description Topic Difficulty
Calculus I from spring 2013 tba
Calculus II Area of a Leaf Riemann sums *
Water in a glass Volumes by integration *****
Area of a Leaf Coyote & Roadrunner **
Calculus III Blasting Former Planets Gradients *
When does a can tip over? (the bottle part was too messy/hard) Volume of mass; 3-d integration ****
Difficulty level is, quite subjectively, rated from 1 (easiest) to 5 (hardest) stars

Projects for a Liberal Arts Mathematics Course

Description Topic Difficulty Comments
Divisors Table (as a Google Doc) Prime Divisors * Cloud-based projects are worth considering
Traveling Salesman & AP football Graph Theory ** Distance discrepancies will occur unless standardized
Conducting Your Own Election (a favorite!) Voting *** I really like the Ranked Pairs method
Choosing the Next Topics Voting * students vote on our next topics
Miscellaneous ideas various * offered as extra-credit in 2012
Flatland Topics Geometry *
Rabbits & Rectangles Fibonacci & golden ratio * actually offered first to a calc class for extra credit

Course Projects

These are usually large lists of potential topics; some are more refined and detailed than others.
Undergraduate Topology Project list
Axiomatic Geometry Project list
Knot theory (master's level) Project list
Geometric Topology (master's level) Project list

Sources and Disclaimers

I first was introduced to writing projects at Project Next at a workshop by Gavin LaRose. See his website listing of projects.

Best source: the book Writing Projects for Mathematics Courses: Crushed Clowns, Cars & Coffee to Go, by Crannell, LaRose, Ratliff, and Rykken. Several writing projects below are directly adapted from these.

Disclaimers: I have drawn inspiration for the projects listed below from many sources. Most projects are in need of a serious proofreading. My own style for the writing projects is incredibly corny. Educators are welcome to standard fair-use of these in their own courses. What I ask for in exchange is for you to share your materials and tell me how they went. I'm willing, where possible, to share examples from my own students' work. (A recent rash of plagiarism here suggests that I should not post examples on the web.) Some of these projects are clearly a 'first draft' -- I'll improve them for the next time around.

Contact info

Associate Professor
Department of Mathematics
Wake Forest University
Office: Manchester 330
Email: parslerj AT wfu DOT edu
Fax: 336 793 7190

Office Hours

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Mathematical Travel

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