Updated: Aug 12, 2018
Math journals, or problem solving notebooks as they are sometimes referred to, are books in which students record their math work and thinking. They can be used to:
record the solutions to math problems, along with the strategy and thought processes used to arrive at the solution
write about learning: At times students may be asked to reflect on their math learning. For example, students may be asked to write about "what you already know about ......" at the beginning of a unit or "what you did today, what your learned, and any questions you have", or "the three most important things you learned in this unit."
By dating entries the journal provides a chronological record of the development of a student’s mathematical thinking throughout the year.
Design with Ease
“Journals also serve as invaluable assessment resources that can inform classroom instruction. Reviewing a student’s math journal provides a useful insight into what a child understands, how s/he approaches ideas and what misconceptions s/he has.”
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Why use Math Journals
While students learn how to "do" math, they must also learn how to articulate what they are learning. It is important to provide many opportunities for students to organize and record their work without the structure of a worksheet. Math journals support students' learning because, in order to get their ideas on paper, children must organize, clarify, and reflect on their thinking. Initially many students will need support and encouragement in order to communicate their ideas and thinking clearly on paper but, as with any skill, the more they practice the easier it will become.
Journals also serve as invaluable assessment resources that can inform classroom instruction. Reviewing a student’s math journal provides a useful insight into what a child understands, how s/he approaches ideas and what misconceptions s/he has.
What are the Characteristics of a Good Math Journal Question?
“Repeating a task provides a record of this growth for teachers, parents and students.”
A good question ….
builds in differentiation by allowing for multiple entry points and recording techniques, thereby allowing all students to work at their individual level of thinking,
provides the opportunity for students to learn by answering the question, and the teacher to learn about each student from the attempt,
may have more than one solution or a variety of possible solution paths that range from simple to complex,
requires more than just remembering a fact or reproducing a skill,
provides opportunities for students to represent their mathematical ideas using models and written language,
provides opportunities for students to justify their reasoning and evaluate the reasoning of others,
has clear, concise directions,
provides opportunities for group work and discussion.
The most important thing to consider when developing a journal question is whether the question involves significant mathematics. Closed questions such as "Ben had 5 apples. He ate 2. How many apples did Ben have left?", often seen in early years classrooms, do little to develop a child's mathematical thinking if the child can answer the question before even getting back to his/her seat. The child may spend 15 minutes drawing and coloring apples but mathematical thinking is limited. Changing the question from a closed to an open format such as, 'Ben had 5 apples. He ate some of them. How many did he eat? How many did he have left?' creates greater potential to stimulate mathematical thinking and reasoning when a child is asked to show as many different solutions to the problem as s/he can.