A project which looks at writing skills for students of mathematics

This project’s resources were originally developed for undergraduate students in MATHS 302 Teaching and Learning Mathematics as well as postgraduate students of mathematics at the University of Auckland, by Associate Professor Caroline Yoon.

These resources might be useful to: teachers of creative writing and teachers of STEM subjects.

Caroline Yoon is a 2017 CLeaR Fellow.

Caroline presenting the results of her research at the 2017 CLeaR Teaching and Learning Symposium.

A group interview with Caroline Yoon & CLeaR Fellows Alys Longley and Esther Fitzpatrick.

For similar projects, see: Writing reflecting scripts in mathematics and Letting the Letters Run Ahead of Me.

Project background

What were the project objectives?

Caroline Yoon sought to highlight similarities between mathematics and writing in three ways:

  • By examining how certain mathematical processes mirror the writing process
  • By designing and offering writing workshops for mathematics education students
  • By participating in an interdisciplinary collaboration on writing to explore links between academic and creative writing across the disciplines

To what extent were these objectives achieved?

Objective 1: An article called “The Writing Mathematician” was published in a mathematics education journal. It was selected to appear in the forthcoming edition of “Best Writing on Mathematics 2018”, published by Princeton University Press. Objective 2: Caroline Yoon designed and implemented ten writing workshops for undergraduate students in MATHS 302, and eight writing workshops for postgraduate students in mathematics education, mathematics and statistics. Her colleague, Jean-François Maheux, observed the ten undergraduate workshop and they recorded ten 30-60 minute joint debriefs. Objective 3: Caroline participated in weekly meetings with the Creative Critical Collaborative group, where they shared and supported their individual fellowship goals, and discussed similarities and differences between writing practices across various disciplines. Additionally, Caroline sought out mentors and critics beyond this group in her attempts to use creative writing in her own academic writing, for example to tell the story of a design research project in the style of a detective mystery.

Project reflection

Caroline’s Project Reflection

Greater engagement in teaching writing in MATHS 302 led me to realise that the 60% exam was unsuited to the writing-based nature of the course. I have decided to swap the exam for a “creative contract”, following Helen Sword and Michele Leggot’s assessment structure in Modern Poetry. This incentivises students to engage in the critical, creative, and collaborative intellectual activity that develops their writing in mathematics education. My personal explorations with creative and academic writing were intellectually challenging, fun and satisfying. I value the ways I have been extended this year, and believe they have enhanced the quality of my own writing, and given me new tools for teaching writing.

Caroline’s Future plans

I will continue to develop and offer writing workshops:

  • The writing workshops will be a regular feature of MATHS 302, with 6 workshops planned for this year’s offering
  • I have offered writing workshops for postgraduate mathematics education students from other universities, and am exploring the possibility of workshops internationally.

I will continue to write and publish

  • The data collected from objective 2 have led to two studies, the findings of which will be submitted to academic journals
  • My attempts to extend my academic writing are ongoing through one manuscript, which will be submitted to an academic journal

I am currently working on a collaborative grant proposal to extend our interdisciplinary work on academic writing practices across the disciplines.  

Project resources
For Caroline Yoon’s article ‘The Writing Mathematician’ For the Learning of Mathematics 37, 2 (July, 2017) see here.  
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