Term in the Middle East 2001
ID ME 224: Geometric Forms and Images in Islamic Culture
Mathematical autobiography


You are to write a mathematical autobiography in which you trace, describe and reflect upon your personal journey in the study of mathematics. 

 3-4 typed pages (maximum 5 pg)
 12 point Times
 1 inch margins top and bottom, left and right

You should be completely honest.  The paper will be read only by the two Field Supervisors.

This assignment constitutes 10% of your course grade.  The first draft counts 50% of the grade, and the revision, 50%.

The objectives of the assignment, hints as to how to go about it, and information regarding evaluation of it are found below.

Objectives of assignment:

1. To provide the student with an opportunity to reflect honestly upon his/her experience in the study of mathematics—the low points as well as the high, the failures and/or frustrations as well as the successes.
2. To provide the student with an opportunity to reflect honestly upon his/her psychological state of mind as he/she embarks upon a semester-long study of the geometric forms and images found in Islamic cultures.  How does the student approach this opportunity—with fear and trepidation and dread?  with eagerness and enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity? with a combination of emotions?
3. To ask the student to carry out the reflection cited in # 1 and #2 above in a literary form—autobiography—that requires taking account of both the author and the reader.
4. To provide a vehicle for the student to inform the course instructor in complete honesty of his/her past experience in the study of mathematics, including both failures and successes, both frustrations and satisfactions.

How to go about completing the assignment:

Before writing:
1. Think back to your childhood when you first encountered the world of mathematics?  What was your first encounter with mathematics?  Where was it?  What happened?  Was the experience negative or positive?  Why?
2. Now trace your progressive encounter with mathematics from grade school through middle school through high school.  Can you identify specific low or high points?  specific teachers who impacted you negatively or positively?  specific experiences that influenced your self-perception negatively or positively?
3. Construct (graphically) a time line that traces your encounter over time with the study of mathematics?  Is the overall trajectory negative or positive?  Are there specific points at which the trajectory changes one way or the other?  What happened at these points? 
4. Review your time line carefully and in detail. What over-arching point(s) come to mind as you trace your mathematical journey?  This point/these points are what undergird(s) the development of a thesis that will account for or explain the course of your journey as well as where you stand currently.

5. Write down a thesis that accounts for your mathematical journey.
6. Make a list of key events or experiences you will want to cite in your autobiography.
7. Think about the organization of your autobiography.  While autobiographies can be organized chronologically, this may not be the most effective way for the author to communicate with his/her audience.  Often, it works well to begin at a turning point and then use a “flash back” technique.  Another way to organize your autobiography is topical:  encounters with math in elementary school, in middle school, in high school, etc.  Or: specific courses, specific teachers, specific activities.  In any case, the organization of your paper should follow naturally from the thesis or main point you wish to communicate. 
8. Make a preliminary outline. 
9. Begin writing.  You need not necessarily begin with the introduction (which may turn out to be the most difficult part of the autobiography to write).  Work first with material about which you feel secure, confident, and then gradually move to other parts of your essay about which you feel less sure.  For example, begin by describing in detail a specific episode or event you consider particularly significant to the development of your attitude regarding mathematics.  Let yourself go, reliving the experience:  Where did the incident occur?  Who was present?  What happened?  Who said what?  How did the incident affect you at the time?  And now?
10. Now think about other experiences and treat them in a similar way.
11. Try to step back a bit and figure out what might be the significance of these experiences in the greater scheme.  Did one experience build on another, or were they distinct incidents?  Would you characterize your mathematical journey as evolutionary or revolutionary?  Why?  Thinking about questions like this will help you determine how to fit the various pieces of your autobiography together.  Think about the order in which you wish to present them.  What kinds of transitions can you create to tie the various parts of your autobiography together?

After writing:
12. Read what you have written.  Can you hear your own voice?  (It should be a strong voice, since this is an autobiography.)  Does your argument make sense?  Does your autobiography “hang together”?  Is there enough descriptive material?  Are the specific events or experiences you described vivid?  Do they draw the reader into your story and cause him/her to laugh or cry, smile or winch?  Do they contain direct discourse?
13. Leave the paper alone for a day or two, then pick it up and read it again.  Consider the questions in #11 again.

How the assignment will be evaluated:

Your autobiography will be evaluated in terms of the following criteria (of equal weight):

 • Honesty/depth of reflection 
 • Explanation/analysis: development of argument, use of salient examples
 • Organization/coherence: introduction, topic sentences, transitions, conclusion
 • Style, tone, personal voice
 • Mechanics: paragraphing, grammar, punctuation, spelling


return to Wendy Allen's Home Page