Introduction to Writing Assignments

The Mathematics for Sustainability textbook supports a course that has been taught at Penn State for several years.  A very significant component of the course as taught has been the requirement that students develop extended pieces of writing which use the mathematical skills developed in the course in support of advocacy or analysis of specific sustainability-related proposals. See the introduction to the Case Studies section (7.1) for more detail about this.

Although we want to help students develop their abilities to execute computations, this must be balanced with other skills. Ideally all students should develop sufficient competency to use quantitative information, appropriately and effectively, in communicating their ideas, and to assess the use of quantitative information by others. These skills are increasingly important in the workplace, in students’ roles as informed citizens and as effective advocates for the causes they care about.

This post series describes in greater detail the specific writing assignment process that we have used.  Instructors may wish to reproduce all or part of this in their own versions of the course.

We have used two types of writing assignments, described in greater detail below. These are Read and Respond assignments, where students make blogposts in response to assigned readings and later make public comments following up on the posts of others, and Write and Respond assignments, where students are given a great deal of latitude (and support!) in developing a public post advocating or exploring a specific topic related to sustainability. Different iterations of the course have used different numbers of assignments. Our current recommendation is to use 4 writing assignments in total, 2 Read and Respond assignments and 2 Write and Respond, spaced throughout the semester. Each assignment passes through a peer-review cycle where other students comment on
it and make suggestions for improvement.

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