One of my favorite math assignments is an idea I’ve taken from Dave Wang, an phenomenal math teacher who mentored me during my first few years of teaching.
Dave used to ask all of his students to write a Mathematical Autobiography—1000 words telling the story of who you are as a student of mathematics, recounting the important moments and experiences that have shaped your mathematical development.
Here’s the complete assignment, borrowed verbatim from Dave:
Your mathematical autobiography
Your autobiography is your life story — a first person account of who you are as a person and the events and experiences that have helped shape you.
Your mathematical autobiography is the story of who you are as a mathematician and a student of mathematics. In it, you relate the events and experiences that have shaped your mathematical development.
Your assignment is to write your mathematical autobiography. It should be at least 1000 words long, which is approximately two single spaced word-processed pages, but it’s fine if yours is longer. If yours is shorter, that probably means that you haven’t thought hard enough about what to include (in addition to not fulfilling the requirements of the assignment.)
I encourage you to type your autobiography, and to include photographs and artwork to complement it.
Your autobiography does NOT need to be comprehensive. It should NOT contain every single detail that you can remember about your math education. (“In first grade, I had Mrs. Smith. She was mean. In the second grade, I had Mrs. Jones. I liked her because she gave me candy every day.”) Instead, focus on the people and experiences that had significant impacts on you.
Mr. Burk has provided you with a copy of his mathematical autobiography as an example. It also provides some interesting dirt from his past.
Finally, you should consider this autobiography unfinished. You will be adding to it as the year progresses.
Here is the first draft of my mathematical autobiography:
I love this assignment, but I also want to push it further. I want my Algebra II students to think of themselves continuing to actively write their mathematical autobiographies through their work in my class, but most importantly, through their daily encounters with math in the world around them beyond our classroom.
I’m not exactly sure how to do this. I think I very well might ask them to add to their autobiographies from time to time, and I’m also considering some sort of portfolio/blogging component to the class. I’m very open to your suggestions for how to accomplish this goal.