Mathematical Communication is a developing collection of resources for engaging students in writing and speaking about mathematics, whether for the purpose of learning mathematics or of learning to communicate as mathematicians.

Rubric for Problem of the Week

Janet Preston at Unity College uses the rubric attached below to grade short writing assignments; the rubric is based on one she saw at Janet provides the following context (lightly edited):

At Unity College, we have adopted a college-wide goal to incorporate writing across the curriculum.  To bring a writing component into our classes, my math colleagues and I use writing assignments like the weekly problems provided at

The way it works is this:  Every two or three weeks throughout the semester, I choose a problem or project, relevant to our topic at hand, that I think will be both interesting and challenging for students.  I give them class time to work on it in groups. I try not to say too much about it, letting them struggle and brainstorm a bit on their own, although I willingly help them if they have questions.  They work together to solve the problem, but they are required to write individual papers.  I explain that each person has a slightly different perspective and will explain it differently.  We discuss the rubric elements, and I emphasize the focus on their process, rather than their answer.  They have a week to complete the assignment.

The first problem is given on the first day of class.  It’s a great ice-breaker and gets them engaged quickly.  I spend most of the first week walking them through the writing process with peer review that our writing department uses.  I have often invited our Writing Center Director to come to the second class to explain it herself.  They give and receive feedback on each other’s papers and revise their drafts for final submission.  Since I have been including the writing process element, the papers have improved significantly.  Because of that, I have begun giving a separate due date for their drafts, to encourage revisions.  We also have peer Writing Consultants available to students at Unity, so I encourage them to seek help there as well.

The problems on the site vary widely in both topic and difficulty, so all of our students are targeted.  Not all our math faculty use the Math Forum problems, but the writing assignments are similar.  Since we focus on environmental problems and sustainability at Unity College, we tend to come up with writing assignments relevant to those topics and/or to the students’ majors to feed their interests.

The answer to the problem is not usually where students fall down.  Students who lose points tend to lose them in the communication elements or the bottom half of the rubric.  They have trouble finding the balance between the computation and the explanation.  Some student submit their “work” separately and write a general narrative that does not include any computation.  Others just include their computation and think their process is evident.  That is where the struggle lies.  The most common omissions in a paper are an introduction and conclusion.  They jump right into their process without explaining what the problem is about, or they think they are done when they have finished explaining how they got their answer.  They tend to struggle with the reflection piece, not knowing what more to say.

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License: CC BY-NC-SA Page content licensed by Janet Preston under the license:
CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)