Oregon State University


Proof in Gender and Science

In past usage, this book has been assigned reading, available here.  This teaching module is provided by Kryn Freehling-Burton

Students do not read this play on their own; they bring the play to class and it is read aloud.  The cast is 2 women and 2 men.  Typically there are plenty of volunteers to fill the cast.  If there are more than 4 volunteers, the readers are switched at intermission.  It is not uncommon to have women read the male roles or men read the female roles.

In the class where standard epistemological ideas and methods about knowledge creation are challenged, multiple types of writing as legitimate sources of knowledge are incorporated.  The play allows utilization of theatre backgrounds, as well as providing space for theatrical and/or artistic studnets to excel.  The play is read as a bridge between two major themes for the class:  the hurdles and achievements of contemporary women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and medicine/bodies.

Here is a Study Guide prepared by a theatre teacher that might be helpful for instructors using Proof in the classroom.



Notes from the Teaching Module Creator, Kryn Feehling-Burton

Before we begin, I share the following ppt slide: (click here for full ppt presentation)

Themes to watch out for:

  • Women in mathematics
  • The bias for traditional, western higher education
  • Gendered responsibilities in family care
  • Mental illness and treatment

By gender, age, class, race

I do a disclaimer about language, “This play contains language including the “F” word.  “You are all adults; I trust it won’t detract from the experience.”  Some classes get the giggles every time a character swears—it’s totally fine; laughter can relieve awkwardness in a nice way. 

I remind the readers to project so that everyone can hear.  I will often stand in the back for a bit and call out “project!” if needed.  I also let them know that the readers should match the loudest reader, not the quietest.  This is important for this particular class since we have 100-150 students enrolled.

It works perfectly in a 3-hour class block.  In an 80-minute class, there is usually not enough time to read through the whole play.  Each group of actors will read at different tempos so I will sometimes stop a scene or two from the end and finish the following class period.  The papers are still due that next class period so students will need to finish reading on their own.   If there is only about 5 more minutes left, I have also just paused for 2 minutes for those who have to dash out and the rest of the class stays to finish the play.  This works best when the class ends at 20 after the hour because our classroom is not needed until the next hour. 

Basic time rule:  anticipate about 1 minute per every page of script.  For the longer monologues (one person speaking at length) it can run a bit longer and for shorter back-and-forth dialogue, it can be shorter than a minute per page. 

Students really enjoy this.  It’s a good break between heavier lecture days and allows multiple concepts to be presented in the ways we experience them. 

I have a colleague who used the film version: Proof

I prefer the live reading because it involves more active involvement from the class. 

The next class period, we discuss their papers and how they connected the play to class concepts. 

I then highlight a power point that the American Association of University Women (AAUW) made entitled “Why so few?” Specifically pointing out the following 2 facts that connect directly to the play.

  • Women in nontraditional fields can find themselves in a “double bind.”
  • Women in “male” jobs are viewed as less competent than their male peers.
  • When women are clearly competent, they are often considered less “likable.”


And then I do a short presentation about mental health.



Assignment Description in the Syllabus

Proof: (5% of final grade) We will have a staged play reading in class week 4 and a discussion about themes and connections to class concepts.  For this assignment, you will write a one-page, “Director’s/Producer’s notes” describing the play and its importance to women in mathematics and/or the effects of mental impairments. The “Notes” will be double-spaced, 12-point font, one-inch margins and include at least one quote from the play and at least one reference or quotation to a class reading other than the play.  Imagine that this would be printed in the program of a production of the play.  Why would this play be performed?  Why did it win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama?  How does it connect to class?  You can even describe the staging you imagine!  Just don’t write a synopsis of the plot.  Due Week 5 at the beginning of class.  See examples on BB for ideas. (Doc file provided.)

The thesis statement should be a thesis/stance for your paper not the play itself.  What is your claim and purpose for your paper about the play as it connects to class concepts?  Here is an excellent example by a student, "Auburn's story is an important one for our times not only because it addresses such issues as family relationships, and the meaning of mental illness, but more so because it addresses the way in which gender and age play subtle and not-so-subtle roles in the distribution of recognition and prestige in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields." 

When quoting, please discuss the quote or direct reference.  Don't just drop them into the paper un-discussed.  You should never end a paragraph with a quote; discuss why that quote connects to your overall thesis' main points.

Please consult the current APA referencing guide.  Especially remember to include page numbers.

5 points=outstanding! clever, creative approach.
4.5 = almost perfect. captured the essence of the play's connection to course concepts
4 = good job. above average writing
3.75 = C work. met all requirements
3 = minimal requirements met. incomplete. error filled. not a whole page.
No lower grades will be recorded. If you get less than 3, you can revise for re-scoring or keep a 0 for the assignment. The highest score possible in a re-score is a 3.

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