Dear Diary,

As I type this blog, I recall the ebb and flow of teaching some years when I had a class of predominant high achievers then other years when the majority of the class needed extra practice. During both extremes, I was challenged because I wanted to do more for each group but wasn’t sure how.

After seeking advice from my peers – something I recommend all teachers do – the idea of math journals came to light.

“Journaling?” I asked them. “But I don’t teach reading.”

They explained and opened my mind to a dimension in which I still live.

I appreciate the tool of a math journal because it is open-ended. Math journals allow us as teachers to conduct mini-assessments, support current curriculum, and think outside the box.

There are many ways a math journal system can be utilized, and it benefits all types of learners. In my class, I have a set of prompts. Since I currently teach three different grades, I have a different set of prompts for each grade. My system is set up as follows: for each grade, there are hanging folders, name label tabs, notebooks and a bin to hold everything. A second bin adjacent to it has hanging folders and houses a different prompt in each folder. High tech, huh?

The journals stay in my classroom and usually 1-3 times a week, we devote time to them. The prompts not only range in type but also in complexity. For example, I recently gave my sixth graders prompts with algebraic equations as enrichment to the unit. Just like any typical 11 or 12-year old, they loved having their brains wracked. I could tell by the groans and pained facial expressions.

“Mrs. Oteeeeennng,” they said as I smiled and offered to give them more. Being a high achieving group, they were of course able to get through it…eventually.

The fifth graders worked on a number tile activity and fourth graders on math facts exercises.

As students finish the prompts or if time runs out, they affix them in their notebook. The next time we resume with journals, they either retrieve a new prompt or continue working on the previous one. Since the goal is to provide enhancement and exposure to math in a different way, it is appropriate for students to work at their own pace.

Another benefit is the ability to deviate from the curriculum. Sometimes I include prompts with topics that are not covered in the text. Studying concepts like the Fibonnaci sequence, Pi, or Pythagorean Theorem allows for further connections to how math is in everyday life and hopefully sparks an enjoyment for this subject.

Of course there are downsides to journaling. As with any idea, proper research, set up and implementation takes times. I have a stack of reference books, and I pick and choose which questions, puzzles, etc. are appropriate for what grade. Then I photo copy them. Imagine about three prompts per week times three grades, times the number of students in each grade. Poor trees, right? However, 1) I can generally get two (and sometimes three) copies of each prompt per page and 2) it is for a good cause.

The time commitment of course can be chunked. Since I do not journal for every class every day, I have developed a rhythm that allows both myself and my students a decent level of sanity. I am not overwhelmed with demands of having paper copies ready, and my students can relax and focus on the core concept at hand.

Another potential downside is the cost of materials. However, frugality and a little leg work can help minimize this. There are also other ways to organize journal work besides bins such as procuring an unused filing cabinet from storage, buying notebooks for cheap during return to school season, and forgoing notebooks by housing student work in the hanging files. I can also see storage as a drawback if a room has limited space. However, teachers by nature are creative and more times than not, we can make it work!

With technological advancements, I foresee a future of electronic math journaling. That is just an idea in my mind and perhaps light years away from me personally implementing. It would certainly help alleviate the tree concern, but as one could deduce, it will raise other issues. For now, I use the good old standby that is proven to be both effective and worth the time to organize.

Kiddos, prepare for your brains to be stretched!

Until next blog,
Mrs. Oteng

Stephanie Oteng Written by Stephanie Oteng | Mathematics Teacher, 4th – 6th Grade

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2 comments on “Dear (Math) Diary…”

  1. 1
    Staci Barrett on September 25, 2016

    Love reading your blog! Your students are so lucky to have you! Best of luck with the journaling!
    I wish Jaiden could be in your Math class!

  2. 2
    Sheryl Forrest on September 27, 2016

    Excellent idea my good friend! I love your intuitive way to stay with the times and how you continue to challenge bright minds. Great job Mrs. Oteeeeeenng and keep up the awesome work.

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