It’s Math, Why Journal?

It’s Math, Why Journal?

Communication is an essential part of mathematics and mathematics education. Mathematics is so often conveyed in symbols that oral and written communication about mathematical ideas is not always recognized as important.

Students do not necessarily write or talk about mathematics naturally; teachers need to help them learn how to do so (Cobb, Wood, and Yackel 1994).

Journals provide a way of sharing ideas and clarifying understanding. Through written and oral communication, ideas become objects of reflection, refinement, discussion, and amendment. The communication process also helps build meaning and permanence for ideas. When students are challenged to think and reason about mathematics and to communicate the results of their thinking to others orally or in writing, they learn to be clear and convincing.

Journaling in the Math Classroom supports the NCTM Process  Standards for School Mathematics. These Process Standards highlight ways of acquiring content knowledge and include:

  • Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Connections
  • Reasoning and Proof
  • Representations

Journal Uses

The ways you use math journals will depend on your purposes, preferences, and the particular age and needs of your students. Some ideas for journal use include:

  • Assessment: Formative and Summative
  • Warm Ups, Starters, Spiral Review
  • Class Notes
  • Problem Solving and Justification
  • Projects
  • Class Assignments/Math Lab Investigations
  • Vocabulary Strategies and Activities
  • Reflection/Learning Log: What did you learn? What are you not sure about? What questions do you have?
  • Models/Foldables

Journals have the potential to grow to be motivational tools for students. Not only do they supply evidence of student learning over time, they also become a useful reference in student discussion, class review, and as a study guide. When students are given the opportunity to record information in a way that is meaningful for them, the learning is “owned” and solidified.

To get students started in their writing it is often helpful to provide a sentence starter or stem.  For ELL students this strategy is also helpful in learning the English language.

Question Prompts and Sentence Starters

  • Explain what is most important to understand about ___________.
  • Find something that you learned today that is similar to something

you already knew. Write about these similarities.

  • How would you use what you learned today in your life?
  • What questions are still unanswered at the end of this week?
  • This is how I used math this week (outside of school):
  • Describe any discoveries you made about mathematics today, this week, month, or year.
  • What patterns do you notice in ____________.
  • Make a list of objects or figures in the room which have _____.

How can you tell?

  • Write a letter to your teacher explaining what you understand about

________, and what is still giving you trouble.

  • Describe practical uses for ____________.

Prompts to use for Problem-Solving

  • When I see a word problem, the first thing I do is ____. Then I ____.
  • The most important part of solving a problem is____________.
  • Describe the process you undertook to solve this problem.
  • I knew I was right when____________.
  • Tips I would give a friend to solve this problem are ___, ___, ___…
  • Could you have found the answer by doing something different? What?
  • What strategy did you use to solve this problem and why?
  • What would happen if you missed a step? Why?
  • What other strategies could you use to solve this problem?

Responding to What Students Write

Don’t feel you have to give individual comments on all entries!  Try to learn more about individual students by focusing on the mathematics in the task. Indicate your interest in how they think and reason, and offer suggestions for further consideration. Here are some things to take into account as you read:

  • Is the answer correct?
  • Does the student include reasoning that supports the solution?
  • If computation is required, does the student use an efficient method and/or mental math?
  • Does the solution indicate the use of estimation and reasonableness?
  • What would you still like to know about the child’s thinking or response, even after evaluating the entry?
  • How will you follow up?

Students who have opportunities, encouragement, and support for speaking, writing, reading, and listening in mathematics classes reap dual benefits: they communicate to learn mathematics, and they learn to communicate mathematically.


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