The Role of Math Journals

If you have read my previous post, you know I'm a journal junkie. I actually have several notebooks of my own filled with ideas and lists that I refuse to throw away. I've always kept them, because I know that I can go back to them and use them when needed. I have one for when we remodeled our house that helps me know all the changes we made, paint colors and such. I have another journal that I have used when taking notes at conferences. It's full of ideas. I even save my planners, because I constantly jot down ideas for blog posts and resources.


My journal obsession continues in math. I've seen teachers use math journals in so many different ways. In fact, I have another post on here about using the math journals as an interactive notebook. (You can access that post here and even grab a free download.) This is a great place for students who are already writing to interact with the journal in different ways. As you see in that post, Ban Har mentions using the journal for four different types of reflective posts:

  • Descriptive journals

  • Evaluative/Reflective journals

  • Creative journals

  • Investigative journals


Each journal type serves a purpose in the lesson and helps students to make sense of the mathematics in the lesson while making connections.


Primary Mathematics 1A

What about our youngest writers and readers? How do we encourage them to interact with a math journal? How do we help struggling writers see the value of recording their thinking?


I think the math journal can be used for the same purpose in a different way. I want the journal to be a place where students practice the art of notetaking and realize what information should be remembered.


While we use whiteboards, workbooks and other items during the lesson, I view the math journal as a place for things we want to remember. In this lesson, we were working on using number bonds to subtract. We looked at a picture and told a story for what we saw. Then, I asked the students to record all the number bonds that would help him determine the answer. I then asked students to point to each number bond and tell me the story they were thinking when they wrote it.


Since writing is a slow process for developing writers, the number bond was a great way to practice part-whole relationships and then relate it back to the understanding of subtraction by using a story. My hope is that each student can look back on that number bond and recall the use of subtraction.


I often talk to Kindergarten educators about truly mastering the concepts of numbers 1-10. That standard seems so basic, but when you look at how it's used in later grades, we see that students should master how to write the digits in standard form, how to read a number using word form and how to record it in expanded form (multi-digit numbers). In Kindergarten, that means students are learning to write the numbers in word form and standard form and represent the numbers using objects and pictures.


Math journals are a great place to practice this concept. My youngest learners really struggle with placing something on the page as they are still developing fine motor skills and even how to just hold a pencil. Using the math journal to work on writing and understanding the basics of numbers is a great way to create something meaningful together.


Another great way to use the math journal for young writers is to use is a summation of the task by creating an anchor chart. With older students, I ask them to record what is being taught in class. This chart is usually created on a large piece of chart paper to be referenced throughout the chapter. In doing this, older students learn how to record what's vital to understanding as I model the process by creating an interactive chart.


Younger students may struggle with the concept of recording something from the board. We have all seen that looking up, remembering and recording can take practice. So, how can we utilize this idea to help our students process and record?


I still think it's important to make the anchor chart together during the lesson, but I have found that asking younger students to make the anchor chart in their journals is best done in a small group. In a small group, I use a whiteboard to help students think about how they can represent what they have learned .


In these pictures, you see a student learning the different ways to subtract. We have already learned each method. I asked students which ways they remembered, and we created the chart together. I used my whiteboard to record any words they said and we used shared writing to record them. Then, the students had a great time making their own chart and sharing their thinking.


While it definitely took some time to do this task, I was impressed by how students responded. They were proud of their work and wanted to share and compare notes. They also were able to summarize the lesson by pointing to the picture and telling how they used it. As we continue the chapter, we will continue to reference the pages as a way they can subtract when working on word problems.


Math journals are such a great asset to the math lesson. It can seem like another task to do, but it is totally worth it. However, it takes time to teach students how to record and write thoughtful things in a notebook. Clear expectations have to be shared and strategies have to taught. I mention more of these ideas in my Day Zero: The First 5 Lessons as part of the second lesson. (You can download this in my SHOP).


Over the years, I've heard from parents that many of my former students still kept their notebooks. They left them on their shelf and wouldn't let their parents throw them out. Some students even went back to them, because they remembered they had good notes in there. The math journal can truly be a place of great learning no matter what age.


How do you use math journals? How do you make them accessible to all students? How do you do them virtually? Leave me a comment and share your ideas!


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