What's expected in a Lab Assignment?

One of the goals of this course is for you to be able to think critically about what you've learned and apply it in different settings. You'll have to do a fair amount of this in your solutions to the lab exercises. The problems in your book tend to be run-of-the-mill exercises, where you take a process you've learned in lecture and repeat it a few times, perhaps with different functions. This type of problem is very important -- you can't learn a mathematical concept without actually doing it a few times -- but it doesn't help you apply that knowledge in some other setting, where the problem may not look exactly like those in your textbook.

The other goal of the lab exercises is to teach you to communicate your ideas to others. As you move on in your studies, your work will become less "run-of-the-mill," and more abstract and detailed. Being able to communicate your ideas and solutions is an important part of your success. This is not a writing intensive course, so you don't have to produce pages and pages of output. But clear writing and careful explanation of your work is a mark of good mathematics, so you also shouldn't expect to hand in a solution with lots of equations, but no words. In other words, your solutions should be written in complete sentances -- paragraphs, even! -- with the occasional equation or picture interspersed throughout. This balance is almost the exact opposite of a typical homework problem. Roughly speaking, an "average" lab exercise should require about a page of work; sometimes less, sometimes more.

Your basic guideline is that a solution to a lab exercise should look something like a detailed example in a textbook. That means each step should be justified and explained, you should include a picture or diagram which helps the reader understand the problem, and you should somehow check your work and make sure your answer is reasonable if possible. For example, if you are supposed to find a function whose graph matches a certain picture, you should verify with Mathematica that your answer produces the correct graph. Also, in many cases it's possible to get a rough estimate of the correct answer without doing the actual calculations; if you compute an integral which should definitely have a positive answer, and you get -3 instead, there's a problem.

You can view an example of a lab writeup.

How will Lab Assignments be Graded?

What follows is a possible grading scheme for a 20 point lab assignment, under the assumption that there are four problems. With assignments that have a different number of problems, the scheme must be modified somewhat. Your TA may or may not use this exact scheme, but it's still a good guideline for you to figure out what's expected. If you have questions about how your TA will evaluate your work, ask her (or him, as the case may be).

Mathematical Content: around 16 points (usually 4 per problem, with 4 assigned problems)

Presentation: 4 points (or what's left over)

For mathematical content, the scoring for each problem could be based on the following criteria.

Score Mathematical Content
4 Nothing is missing. Answer is complete and correct showing all steps and insight.
3 Nothing is missing. Answer is complete but contains a few minor mistakes.
2 Accurate work. Answer shows understanding but has significant mistakes.
1 Answer contains some correct ideas but it is lacking necessary work towards a solution.
0 No work or no work that will lead to a solution.

(Note that some problems may or may not require a diagram; ask your TA if in doubt.)

For presentation, the scoring could be based on the following criteria.

Score Presentation
4 Clear and complete. A joy to read.
3 Clear but possibly missing a picture or justification.
2 Organized, but lacking insight or explanation.
1 Hard to follow or poorly organized. Lacking explanations.
0 Illegible.

Note that these are only guidelines. In particular, the level of work is not always consistent throughout an entire assignment, which means your TA may have to give you a score based on the "average" level of work.

Math 2374
rogness@math.umn.edu
edman@umn.edu