Writing about Numbers We Should Know
This assignment asks students to identify a number we should know (e.g., current world population) and to write a short paper that presents that number clearly and meaningfully. This is the opening assignment for a first year course on quantitative reasoning, and it is intended (a) to expose the students in the course collectively to important numbers they should know, (b) to introduce students to informational literacy issues raised by research searches for numbers, and (c) to give students practice in discussing numbers in writing in precise and principled ways.
- To encourage students to think about the world in terms of numbers via the question "What do the numbers say?"
- To give students experiences using reference sources to find and verify numbers.
- To help students learn how to evaluate the reliability of different reference sources for numbers.
- To involve students in writing and, specifically, writing about numbers.
Context for Use
This assignment has been used in a small class (N=15) on quantitative reasoning, but the use of peer reviews for the first draft of the writing makes this suitable for larger groups, and the general format of the project could be adapted for more specific disciplinary applications (e.g., Numbers We Should Know About X [where X = any specific course topic]).
Description and Teaching Materials
- Reference Librarian's Handout on Information Literacy for Quantitative Research.
- Course assignment handout.
- Instructions for peer reviews.
- Final instructions for finished papers.
Teaching Notes and Tips
I have also used the first chapter of John Paulos's book Innumeracy as well as sections of the Jane Miller book, The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers to give students useful background for this assignment.