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Math Journals

on October 2, 2012

Math Journals are used to develop and enhance a student’s mathematical thinking and communication skills. Math Journals provide an opportunity for the student to self-assess what they have learned. The student is required to go beyond mathematical procedure, reflect on what is needed to complete the problem and communicate it in writing. When a student writes a math journal, they must reflect on what they have learned which in turn is a great assessment technique for individuals.

Math teachers will also find Journals to be an effective assessment tool. When reading journal entries, a decision can be made if further review of a concept is required.

There are several guidelines I follow when journaling in Math:

– I keep Math journals in a separate book

– An entry should take no longer than 6-7 minutes to complete

– I do not journal every day. I try to journal at least twice a week. Normally, when I have either introduced or completed a new concept.

Here are some examples of some prompts I use:

I wish I knew more about……

How many times did you try to solve the problem? How did you finally solve it?

Could you have found the answer by doing something different? What?

What method did you use to solve this problem and why?

Was this hard or easy? Why?

Where else could you use this type of problem solving?

What would happen if you missed a step? Why?

What other strategies could you use to solve this problem?

You can find hundreds, if not thousands, of prompts on line. Please feel free to add web links or useful prompts in the comment section. Happy Journaling!


10 responses to “Math Journals

  1. jasonburns2012 says:

    Journals are an excellent way to get kids to view Math in a different light. So often, kids think that we are looking for the “right” answer (and we often are). Journals provide the opportunity to ask questions that have no “right answer” and allow kids to explore new ideas and concepts in a safe environment.

  2. lorijc says:

    I once had my students respond to the prompt, “If math was a food, what would it be and why.” Their answers were poetic and profound in revealing attitudes toward math. (I think it was the group of students that you are teaching now).

    Hopefully by grade 5 the students have had ample experience with journaling and are able to articulate their thinking. For me, in the eariler grades, it is one of the most challenging aspects of the balanced math components. A lot of modelling and oral practice are required before the pencil hits the paper.

    Have you noticed an improvement in students ability to journal in math over the last few years?

    • ferntouchie says:

      I agree with you, Lori. Math journaling needs to go through a process much like you do when learning new writing traits. There needs to be a lot of modeling done by the teacher, whole class shared writing, partner shared writing, exemplar investigation, and only after experiencing those opportunities several times should independent math journaling be introduced. Often times journaling, as a closure, is seen as a quick 5 min end to a lesson. ‘Here is the question. Now go to it.” Mathematical reasoning and explanation is difficult, not only for children but for many adults as well, and in order for true math journaling to be successful and effective in developing students mathematical skills students need to be exposed to this process and valuable feedback needs to be communicated.

      • mrssmithnmes says:

        At this point in grade one, I have been using math journals as a type of “show what you know” activity where students can use both drawings and words to demonstrate what they know about a certain question/topic. Am I wrong in introducing math journals this early in the grade one year?

      • ferntouchie says:

        Absolutely not, Tanya. The earlier in the year you introduce the better, in my opinion. A mixture of pictures and words is perfect, especially at the primary grade levels. I mentioned that there should be modeling that happens early in the year as I have been in a number of classrooms/schools where teachers get very frustrated with the outputs students are giving in their math journals or that it is taking a whole math block to do an entry. It sounds as though you are having success with your class and you are making it into a positive experience for your students, which is SOO important! I would love to come in sometime to watch them at work 😉

    • It can sometimes take a few journal entries for the students to get “warmed up” and present their entries in a way that is organized and legible. However, I have noticed an improvement in the ability to journal over the past couple of years.

      • Fern: I have to ask… what would you classify a “show and share” activity as under the Balanced Math framework? Students demonstrate their thinking path, record their strategies and explain them to others. Is it a form of informal journaling?
        Do you think that it is as meaningful as journals? A good intro activity?

      • ferntouchie says:

        Hi Nicole,
        With respect to the balanced math framework a “show and share” could be used during your WCI (whole class instruction activity), can be part of a warm up, and/or a closure activity. One of the mathematical processes is communication. Students need to have opportunities not only to read, represent, view and write about mathematical ideas, they also need to be able to listen and discuss. In my opinion, providing students with opportunities to discuss their mathematical reasoning and sharing individual strategies is just as meaningful as journal writing, especially for those students who struggle or have a negative outlook of writing. Obviously, I would not solely use pair shares or solely use journals in my class. There needs to be a balance, which in turn encourages students in your class to show their understanding in a number of ways. I loved how you used the pair share strategy when your students were learning about extending patterns. The discussions that were happening were meaningful and as a teacher you can quickly circle the room and jump right in to either clear up misconceptions, probe further for clarification, or challenge them a little further…there is your differentiation!

    • mrssmithnmes says:

      Towards the end of last year, as a math journal prompt, I asked my students-“If math were a food what would it be?” and “If math were a smell what would it smell like?” These questions got some very interesting answers. Their answers certainly showed me which students had a favorable impression of math and those who did not.

  3. mrssmithnmes says:

    I, too, follow those same guidelines when I use math journals in my lessons. The prompts you use are excellent!
    When I introduce math journals, I ask my students to tell me what they think math means. I find it interesing to hear their perceptions of math. They almost always immediately say that math is numbers related in some way. When I ask, ‘can math be words or drawings?’, they dismiss it until I bring out the journals. Fortunately, it doesn’t take them long to jump on the math journaling bandwagon!

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