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Writing Math Research Papers: A Guide for Students and Instructors

Key College Press
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Writing Math Research Papers  is primarily a guide for high school students that describes how to write aand present mathematics research papers. But it’s really much more than that: it’s a systematic presentation of a philosophy that writing about math helps many students to understand it, and a practical method to move students from the relatively passive role of someone doing what is assigned to them, to creative thinkers and published writers who contribute to the mathematical literature.

As experienced writers know, the actual writing is not the half of it. William Zinsser once taught a writing class at the New School for Social Research which involved no writing at all: students talked through their ideas in class and through that process discovered the real story which could be written from their tangle of experiences, hopes and dreams. The actual writing was secondary, once they understood how to find the story and organize it.

Gerver, an experienced high school mathematics teacher, takes a similar approach. The primary audience is high school students who want to prepare formal papers or presentations, for contests or for a “math day” at their high school. But the discovery, research and organizational processes involved in writing an original paper, as opposed to rehashing information from a reference book, can help any student learn and understand math, and the experience will be useful even if the paper is never written.

Gerver leads students through a discovery process beginning with examining their own knowledge of mathematics and reviewing the basics of problem solving. The “math annotation” project follows next, in which students organize their class notes for one topic for presentation to their peers, resulting in a product similar to a section of a textbook or handbook, complete with illustrations and the necessary background and review material. Practical advice about finding a topic, developing it by keeping a research journal, and creating a final product, either a research paper or oral presentation, follows.

Writing Math Research Papers is directed primarily to students, and could be assigned as a supplementary textbook for high school mathematics classes. It will also be useful to teachers who incorporate writing into their classes or who serve as mentors to the math club, and for student teachers in similar situations. An appendix for teachers includes practical advice about helping students through the research and writing process, organizing consultations, and grading the student papers and presentations. Excerpts from student research papers are included as well, and more materials are available from the web site

Robert Gerver, PhD, is a mathematics instructor at North Shore High School in New York. He received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematical Teaching in 1988 and the Tandy Prize and Chevron Best Practices Award in Education in 1997. He has been publishing mathematics. Dr. Gerver has written eleven mathematics textbooks and numerous articles, and holds two U.S. patents for educational devices.

Sarah Boslaugh, ( is a Performance Review Analyst for BJC HealthCare and an Adjunct Instructor in the Washington University School of Medicine, both in St. Louis, MO. Her books include An Intermediate Guide to SPSS Programming: Using Syntax for Data Management (Sage, 2004), Secondary Data Sources for Public Health: A Practical Guide (Cambridge, 2007), and Statistics in a Nutshell (O'Reilly, forthcoming), and she is Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Epidemiology (Sage, forthcoming).

Date Received: 
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
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Robert Gerver
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Sarah Boslaugh
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Modify Date: 
Thursday, February 19, 2009