August 23, 2006

Informal, Low-Stakes Writing Assignment

CSCL 3458w, Section 2
The Body and the Politics of Representation
Tuesdays, 6:20-8:50 pm

Instructor: Thomas O. Haakenson
Three Possible Write-to-Learn Prompts

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August 19, 2006

FW 1002 Syllabus Justification

You’ll note that there are no exams in this course. I want you to engage in an ongoing intellectual dialog with the course material, not try to cram a lot of “facts? into your head the night before a test and then vomit them out on the exam. Instead, we will make extensive use of both formal and informal writing to gauge your mastery of the subject matter. When you write, you have the opportunity to engage critically with authors, fellow students, and your instructor, but most importantly, with yourself.

The extended entry gives my holistic grading guidelines, which are intended for the syllabus. Individual assignments will also include a specific grading rubric.

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August 18, 2006

Theater Management 5K - inclass prompt

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Physics 3xxxW: Physics for Future Elementary School Teachers

Cycle 6, Activity 2: Children’s ideas about light and vision

Key question: What types of ideas do elementary school students have about light, and how might evidence impact children’s thinking?

Activity Purpose: In this activity, you will analyze two different videos involving 3rd and 4th grade students’ ideas about vision and reflection. The purpose of this activity is for you to get a sense of the types of pre-instructional ideas children have involving how we see things, and to think about how these ideas might evolve through classroom experimentation.

Initial Ideas (before viewing videos)

1. To begin a unit on light with her 3rd grade students, Ms. Jackson shows students a flashlight and asks them to draw pictures representing how they are able to see light. What initial ideas about how we see light do you think the 3rd grade students might express?

2. Early in Cycle 6 you conducted an experiment involving a mylar square and white paper sitting on the center of the table. You were asked to predict what each person standing around the table would see when the lights were turned off and a flashlight directed at the center of the table was turned on.

Imagine that 4th grade students conducted a similar experiment with only a mirror (not the white paper) in the center of the table. Imagine that they were asked to predict which of the four students standing around the table would see the light. What type of predictions do you think these students would make? Why do you think so?

Phar 4XXX/5XXX healthcare controversy class

We have just discussed the concept of health literacy and its potential impact on health outcomes. Take a few minutes now to write down any potential strategies that come quickly to your mind which could be used to improve health literacy. Choose an area of healthcare with which you feel most comfortable.

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August 17, 2006

Biol 3XXX intake writing assignment

Writing sample – Biol 3XXX (majors only)

In preparation to our field trip to the X Museum, you will do a background research on the species that you are going to study in the museum.

Your assigned species is: _____________________________

Write your own half-page, single-spaced description of basic characteristics of the organism, such as classification (plant, fish, bird, amphibian, mammal, etc.), morphology (appearance), habitat, diet, behavior, current status (endangered, threatened, etc.) and possible interaction with humans (game species, pet, pest, etc.). This should be similar to what you see next to exhibits in zoos and museums.

The purpose of this writing is to inform the museum visitors about the organism. Your audience is the general public aged 10 and up. What would they like to know? Are there any “cool facts? about the organism that would pique their interest?

Only scientifically credible information should be included in the paragraph. Acceptable sources for this assignment include:
• books and journal articles
• publications and databases of zoos, museums, and other educational or research institutions of public domain
• published encyclopedia (i.e. available in print).
Unacceptable sources include (but are not limited to):
• hobbyist web pages
• web-only dictionaries and encyclopedia (includes Wikipedia)
• blog entries

Since this is an informational document for the general public, we decide not to cite authors within the main text as we do in regular scientific writing. Citations take up too much space on signs and brochures and may distract or intimidate some readers.

Because you are not citing authors in the text, you cannot use direct quotes; you must properly paraphrase anything borrowed from external sources and list the sources on the bottom half of the page.

List sources in a scientific format such as:
Dixon, J.B., R.E. Dixon, and J.E. Dixon. 1957. Black-shouldered kite biology in San Diego County. Condor 59:156-65. <- This is an example for a journal article.

Jonsgard, P.A. 1990. Hawks, eagles and falcons of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington. <- This is an example for a book.

Cite web pages* as follows:
Minnesota Zoo web page on Amur tiger.

* Web pages are usually not cited as literature in formal scientific articles; researchers search the original source of information that has been published on paper and cite it instead. If an academic web page contains information that is not yet published, the researcher will contact the author of the web page directly and cite it as “personal communication?.
Similarly, you may find interesting facts from Wikipedia and other sites, but you need to use the original source of such facts rather than Wiki itself.

Biol 3XXX low-stakes writing assignment

Write-to-learn prompts for Biol 3XXX

1. 5-minute paper: are the following statements correct? For each statement answer yes or no and explain why.
“Natural selection is survival of the fittest.?
“Natural selection is survival of the luckiest.?

At the end of the 5 minutes, discuss your answers in groups of 3 to 4 people for 5 minutes. I will then ask each group for their answers and explanations. The papers will not be collected.

2. 10-minute exercise. What results would you expect from today’s experiment? Sketch in your lab manual a graph of phenotype versus frequency for 1) before selection and 2) after selection and explain your predictions in a few sentences. The lab manual will not be collected, but these predictions will part of your next lab report. Recording your predictions now will be useful since you may not recall them clearly when you reach the stage to write up the entire lab. At the end of the 10 minutes I will ask some volunteers to share their predictions with the class.

PHSL3062w writing/thinking sample

This assignment will be used as a jumping-off point for showing students how they might generate ideas for their papers and how to go about searching a database commonly-used by biomedical researchers. The faculty will also use these answers to make an initial assessment of each student’s facility with writing and critically thinking about what they have read.

(We will model this assignment at the end of a lecture, and ask students to do the assignment during the following week.)


1. Find a newspaper article that deals with a health- or physiology-related issue.

2. Write a one-paragraph summary of this article.

3. Inspired by this article, write a list of 3-5 questions about physiological mechanisms, whicht you would like answered in depth. If there are any other questions about the reporting or the story that concern you, also list those.

Bring a copy of the article, your summary and list of questions to the next lecture. We will use some of your responses to demonstrate how to use the PubMed database to find sources that address specific scientific questions. (At the end of class, you will be asked to turn in the copy of the article, summary, and list of questions. This assignment will not be graded, but will be used as a means of assessment and taking attendance.)

PHSL3062w in-class exercise_find the hypothesis

Short (10’) in-class assignment. This assignment will take place in the context of a lecture on how to approach primary scientific literature (research reports). Students will be shown the introductory section of an original scientific study and asked to work in groups of 2-3 to answer the following questions. We will then spend ~10’ discussing their answers. (Although not graded, the answers will be collected at the end of class, as a means of taking attendance.)

1) What is the general subject that the scientists address in this paper?

2) What is the specific hypothesis that is being tested?

3) Why should we care about this study? (It’s likely that your tax dollars are funding this research. Have the authors conveyed a sense of what this study should add to our knowledge of physiology and why this is important knowledge?)

PHSL3062w in-class exercise_women's brains

Short (10’) in-class assignment. This assignment will take place in the context of a lecture on experimental design and interpretation of data. Students will be presented with the following (projected onto screen at front of class) and asked to work in groups of 2-3 to answer the four questions. Students will be told to just jot down their thoughts; form is not important. We will then spend ~10’ discussing their answers. (Although not graded, the answers will be collected at the end of class, as a means of taking attendance.)

In the 19th century, scientists used measurements of brain size to support the contention that women are less intelligent than men. Chief among these scientists was the neuroanatomist Paul Broca, professor of clinical surgery at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. Broca weighed the brains of patients at autopsy and found the following: the average weight of 292 male brains was 1325 gm, while the average weight of 140 female brains was 1144 grams (difference of 181 grams, or 14% of male brain weight). These data were used by Gustave LeBon, a contemporary of Broca, to conclude that:

In the most intelligent races, as among the Parisians, there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason. Without doubt there exist some distinguished women, very superior to the average man, but they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, as a gorilla with two heads; consequently, we may neglect them entirely.
(quoted in The Panda’s Thumb, by Stephen Jay Gould)

1. What is your response to LeBon’s conclusion?

2. Assuming that Broca’s measurements were accurate, is LeBon’s conclusion supported by the data?

3. What assumptions were made by LeBon in interpreting the data?

4. Can you think of factors other than intelligence that might be correlated with brain size?

here is this great picture


Critical Reading Summary

Critical reading is an important skill, and reading summaries are designed to facilitate close and critical reading of the assigned essays. Summaries are due approximately every third week of class (see the syllabus for exact due dates), and you may select any of the readings from the prior 3 weeks for your summary. I suggest that you try to pick an essay that you particularly enjoyed, or else one that you really disliked (if you were apathetic about the reading, it will be difficult to write an interesting review!).

Reading summaries are short (300-600 word) highly-focused reviews. The entire assignment must fit on one side of a single piece of paper (good reviews will usually use most of the available page). You may single space and use any reasonable-sized font (> 11 pt., I’m nearsighted!), but if your review is longer than one page, you’ll need to pare it down.

In an initial paragraph, give a full citation for the reading (e.g., title, author, year of publication, and source). Use the internet to find out a little bit more about the author (can you find their home page, bio, or CV?). Give the author's affiliation or credentials: who are they, and how well are they qualified (or not) to write about this particular subject? What about the source? Is it academic or popular? Does the organization publishing the essay seem to have any hidden agenda?

In a second paragraph, summarize the main points of the reading. You don’t have enough space to summarize everything, and you shouldn’t try. Abstracting is the art of identifying and distilling the most important points—to provide a concise, accurate, and readable summary.

In a third paragraph, describe the major strength(s), any weakness(es), and give your own opinion of the reading. It is especially important in this section to try to be critical (if you essentially agree with the author), or to try to empathize (if you strongly disagree). The rare argument is utterly brilliant, and quite a few more are utter rubbish, but more often these conclusions indicate that it is the gentle reader (ahem…you) who is being dogmatic. The vast majority of ethical arguments contain both strengths and weaknesses, and the mark of a good critic is the ability to identify both.

In a final short paragraph, state why you think I assigned this particular reading. How does the essay tie in with what we’ve been discussing in lecture, or with previous readings? What do you think I wanted you to take away from this particular reading?

Informal, in-class writing assignments for HSCI 3XXX

Ecology and the Environment
Write-to-learn Prompts:

(1) This comes at the beginning of a lecture on the birth of ecosystems ecology. It is the last lecture in the second third of the course. Students have done readings…

What is an ecosystem? (This question goes with a Power Point slide showing many different levels of biological organization.) I ask students to write for a couple of minutes and then I have them pair and share for a couple of minutes before eliciting answers, which I write up on the board to refer to throughout the lecture.

(2) This question comes at the beginning of the first class of the third section of the course. I start this class playing the closing scene from Dr. Strangelove where the bombs are being dropped to “We’ll Meet Again.? While the scene is playing, I ask students to answer the question:

What factors may have contributed to the rapid expansion of ecosystems ecology after WWII? (This is sort of a set up to elicit the “obvious? response – environmental concerns. But the answer is much more complex, and this sets up the lecture on the factors that allowed ecosystems ecology to become a full-fledged “Big Science? in the 1950s and 1960s.)

Both of these writing assignments will help students in thinking through their final papers as well as, hopefully, giving them some personal investment in the lecture content.

August 16, 2006

Assignment Heuristic (Wash State Univ)

Check out this link for what may be a useful sequence of questions to consider when creating a formal writing assignment:

Initial writing assignment Comp 1K

Initial writing sample assignment due at the start of class, Thursday, January 25th

As we start the semester, it is important for me to get an initial sample of your writing. Doing so helps me to assess the specific abilities that exist in each section and to customize the course’s stylistic and mechanical foci so that they meet major needs.

This assignment has two parts. Follow the format outlined on your syllabus (no cover page is necessary). Each of your responses should run 1 to 2 pages in length. (Longer is not better; better is better.)

1.Select a short piece of non-fiction* that meets your personal criteria for effective prose and then write about it. Your purpose is to present the text you’ve selected to an audience (me) who has never read it. You want your reader to understand, and hopefully agree, with your positive sentiments. Do not attach the selected reading to your discussion; instead, make your reader know what is in it and why it meets your standards.

*Your selection may come from anywhere -- books, newspapers, essays, magazines, CD liner notes etc. It can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a short essay or chapter – but no longer. One hint: pick something that pleases you for reasons beyond simply “I’m interested in the subject.?

Criteria for success: ability to summarize the original succinctly and substantially, and to persuade readers of your criteria for success and of the ways in which the piece you choose meets them.

2.Read the attached essay, “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World,? by Donella Meadows. Create a written response in which you engage your reader in Meadows’ ideas about the concept of “boundary? and articulate your own ideas about this concept and its applications. Your audience will be completely unfamiliar with Meadow’s essay.

Criteria for success: ability to summarize the original succinctly, ability to apply Meadow’s concepts credibly to other circumstances.

This assignment will be graded on a check, check plus, check minus basis, and will count toward the “short writing assignments? percentage of your grade.