More Than Just a Grade: The HOM SIGMAA Student Contest Fosters Writing Excellence at UMKC - The Course

Richard Delaware (University of Missouri - Kansas City)

In the spring of 1998, I volunteered to teach our History of Mathematics course, which, although it had a senior level number, had no prerequisite, and had only been taught on and off over the years whenever a faculty member showed interest at that moment. Often students with little or no background in mathematics enrolled. So, I decided immediately that a mathematics prerequisite was needed, that it should be taught as what our campus called a “writing intensive” course, and that it should be offered once a year, every year.

Writing intensive (WI) courses at UMKC now include the following relevant goals, which I helped compose. At the end of the course students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate their ability through writing to read closely and analyze critically the texts of their disciplines.

  • Produce writing through the recursive process of brainstorming, research, drafting, peer review, and revising.

  • Use research methods and documentation that meet the standards of the discipline.

  • Articulate and discuss their work with peers or the instructor.

WI course construction requirements include:

  • The course design emphasizes and teaches writing as a recursive process.
    (The recursive process is defined as submission of one or more preliminary drafts for instructor response; peer review; revision of content, form, mechanics, and style, leading to a final draft.)

  • Writing assignments are distributed throughout the semester and differ in length and purpose.

  • The course requires a total of 5,000–10,000 words of revised, final-draft quality writing.

  • Writing assignments account for at least 40 percent of the course grade.

In spring 2000, the course became designated Math 464 WI, History of Mathematics, writing intensive. [For more details see the Math 464 WI - Writing Intensive Chart (pdf)]. Since a writing intensive course is required for graduation at UMKC, all undergraduate students have completed a couple of basic writing courses by the time they are juniors to prepare them for such a course. So, I would not have to teach basic writing skills. Soon after Math 464 WI became writing intensive, I added the prerequisite of our On Solid Ground: Sets and Proof course, which itself has a prerequisite of Calculus II. Following these changes, I had classes of junior or senior mathematics majors or minors trained to write reasonably well, as well as read and understand proofs. The course quickly evolved into an introduction to the history of mathematics through the study of about forty proofs. The required texts have always included A History of Mathematics: An Introduction by Victor J. Katz, second or third edition; Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics by William Dunham; and others as I found them useful. For example, I now also require How to Read Historical Mathematics by Benjamin Wardhaugh. Except for one year when it was cancelled, we have offered and I have taught Math 464 WI once a year each spring since 2000.