The Importance of Math Journals
By Ms Liz Vanderwater OCT: Email Liz: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is a Math Journal?
In most classrooms teachers provide students with time to reflect on what they have learned through the use of regular journalling. Most are familiar with the reading journal to record ideas they have had, reflections about books read and to ask questions about what they might still be wondering about.
Math journalling works the same way, with the only difference being that the prompts are about math. The math prompts engage the students to reflect on their thinking. They can use pictures, numbers and/or words to help with their reflective journalling.
Another name for the math journal might be problem solving journal.
It is important to date math journal entries, as this will show students' progress over the course of the school year.
Can I Have My Child Do A Math Journal At Home?
What better way to connect math and home life than through the use of a math journal. One possibility might be to have the math journal prompts related to 'math at home'.
Here are some ‘math at home’ journal ideas:
1) The ingredient list on a cereal box has numbers. Why do you think that is?
2) Survey a room in the house where you think math is used. Record all your ideas.
3) Students can practise operations (add, subtract, multiply, divide) using various resources found in the home (backsplashes with squares/rectangles; place settings of cutlery at the table; weight/volume of products in the house; pairs of socks x2 = total number of socks; mom made 2 dozen cookies. There are 4 children in the family. How many cookies does each child get? ...)
4) If there are 250 books (magazines/newspapers/ebooks...) in the home and the average number of pages is (choose the number), then calculate the total number of pages. Explain your thinking.
5) There are 4 children in the family and each child has an after school event (fill in the event times) to attend. The events are at 3 different times (two children need to be somewhere at the same time). There is only one car. How might you solve the problem to make sure that all 4 children get to their event on time?
Why is it Important?
The use of math journals is twofold:
1) it is important for the student; and
2) it is important for the teacher (which comes back around to benefiting the students).
Important for Students
Math journals can be used in any grade. As early as Kindergarten, students can draw pictures to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. When the math journal follows them into the next grade, their growth and development in mathematical thinking is easily observed.
As students use the math prompts to reflect on their math thinking (by putting their ideas down on paper), they need to organize their thoughts, as well as clarify and record their thinking. Regardless of the age and stage of the student, using pictures, numbers and/or words is an effective strategy to help students express their understanding.
Student’s use of math journals also helps them to consolidate their learning of math concepts and engage their higher order thinking skills, given the right type of prompt.
Important for Teachers
Student math journals can play a key role in helping to inform teacher instruction. This invaluable assessment tool can provide teachers with information about:
~ how the student thinks (e.g. a student's approach to problem solving);
~ what the student thinks;
~ where students' strengths are;
~ where the student/s appear confused; and
~ what, if any, misconceptions there might be.
Armed with the above information, teachers can then provide the appropriate next steps for the students. Following up with another math journal entry will further inform teacher instruction.
How Does It Work?
The math journal can be as simple as a small notebook, or as complex as a multi-tabbed binder that separates the math journal entries by math strand. For example: The current five Ontario curriculum math strands include: Numeration and Number Sense, Data Management and Probability, Measurement, Geometry and Spatial Sense, and Patterning and Algebra.
The math journals can be line-ruled or blank or some combination. When the journal pages are blank, then students don't feel restricted by the lines and any use of pictures to help demonstrate understanding is not impeded by 'noise'.
While initial instruction to complete a math journal entry might come from the teacher, there is no reason why the student cannot independently complete a math journal entry (either at school, or at home) to help with trying to figure things out as well as to help with consolidation of concepts.
Math journal prompts and questions need to be open ended enough to enable student use of different strategies. Often, mathematical situations have multiple ways to solve the problem. If students are restricted by either the type of prompt, or question asked, then the journal entry may not give a true and clear picture of what the student is thinking.
Some Math Journal Prompts
Here are some journal prompts to get started:
1) Today I learned that ...
2) I liked today's lesson about ... because ...
3) I was confused about the part that/when ... because ...
4) The strategy that I used to solve the problem was ...
5) I counted by ... to get the answer because ...
6) I am still wondering about ... because ...
7) I am still wondering about ...
8) My partner and I ...
9) The definition of ... is ...
10) I know that I am right because ...
Here are some links to provide additional information:
Here is a link to a video about math journals:
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