General Teaching – Solution Manual Assignments (Wednesday 11/18/09)

November 18, 2009 at 10:33 pm Leave a comment

The Assignment

One of my favorite assignments to give is one I call a “Solution Manual Assignment”. The premise is pretty simple – I assign students to solve a problem as if they were writing a student solution manual for a textbook publisher. They are to show each step in a neat and orderly fashion, as well as clearly explaining each step.

The assignment forces students to be very precise, as well as thorough. Each step, no matter how small must be included. My students spend a great amount of time and effort to ensure that their solution is correct, often in our tutoring lab. Requiring students to explain their work helps them to truly understand the material, and it increases their chances of success on exams.

How I Do It

Towards the beginning of the semester I choose a problem type that has historically proven to be difficult for my students. I am trying to get my students to spend more time and effort on problems that could give them trouble. I like to form groups of 2-4 students, and I give the same problem to each group. I give a brief example, on the board, of what I am expecting. (This takes no more than 5 minutes.) I set a due date of 2 days to give the groups enough time to work together. When the students turn in their work, I often post the best 1 or 2 on my class web site.

For the second chapter/exam, I give out a practice test 3 days before the exam. I assign 2 or 3 problems to each group and collect them the next day. This gives me a solution key to the practice test. I scan these assignments and post them to the web site so my students will have somewhere to turn to in case they are having difficulty with a particular problem.

Throughout the rest of the semester I alternate between these two approaches.


In my experience, this type of assignment has been very successful. Because of the different format, students seem to take the problem much more seriously than a typical homework exercise. By assigning problems that are typically difficult for students, or problems that I feel are really important, I am helping my students to prepare for their exam. Students seem to respond better to the handwritten copies of their classmates’ work than they do to an answer key that I type. Finally, giving students a chance to reflect on their work and carefully choose the words to explain the problem to another student greatly increases their chances for retaining the material.

If you’d like to give this a try and would like to see a list of sample questions, just drop me a line.

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there are topics you’d like me to address in future General Teaching articles, send in your requests through the contact page on my web site. Be sure to check out next Wednesday’s article.  – George


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Study Skills – Doing Homework, Creating Note Cards (Tuesday 11/17/09) Potpourri – Student Success Story (Thursday 11/19/09)

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