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Math Reflective Essay

At the end of the term I ask students to write simple reflections on their experiences from the year:  what they learned about math, about the world, about themselves.  It’s one of the many ways I get students writing in math class.

It’s a great way to model reflection as part of the learning process, and it’s also a good way for me to get feedback about the student experience.

Mostly, it’s fun!  I love sharing and discussing the reflections with students, and it always results in great end-of-year conversations.

Here are some of my favorites.

After learning a little more about math, I think math is created rather than discovered.  This makes mathematicians and scientists the creators, not merely the seekers.

I learned a lot of things from my classmates that I wouldn’t have learned if I were to just study on my own.

I have learned that I still have very much to learn about myself.

Mathematics is magical; it can lead you to a dead end, but then it can miraculously open up an exit.

Learning how to think of things in three dimensions completely changed the way I saw math.

By seeing algebraic and geometric interpretations, I learned how to communicate math in more ways.

The process which turns a difficult problem into a relatively easy problem is the beauty of math.

One of the best parts of reflection is how much it gets you thinking about the future.  Plenty of food for thought here.

For more resources, see my Writing in Math Class page.

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Image by:  Samana

In the past, I’ve used reflection journals for language arts assignments.  Allowing students to reflect via journaling was one way that I could informally assess whether students were making connections to the literature.  After utilizing the idea of journaling for my language arts class, I thought that it might be useful to integrate this strategy with math.  Before starting this adventure I decided to complete some homework on the idea of math journaling.   In the past I’ve used standard reflection sheets.  While collecting ideas, I also looked for math journal writing prompts and rubrics 123 .  I found many ideas and strategies for math journaling here and at Monica’s website. If you’re unsure of how to introduce the topic of math journaling, this Word example may help.  If you’re curious of where to start, I’ve found that this site provides terrific examples.  So, after researching a few options I decided to label all of my journals and prepare for uncharted territory.

After giving a unit assessment, I gave my first math writing prompt:

  • How do you feel about your performance on the last unit assessment?  
  • What type of math concepts do you find interesting?  Why?

Students were also asked to include a picture with their response.  Why a picture?  I thought that allowing students to draw a picture may portray how they feel regarding their performance.  Some students decided to draw more of a picture, while others decided to write more with words.  Allowing this type of flexibility gave students an opportunity to communicate their response to the writing prompts differently.  The students then turned in their journals and I wrote a short response to each individual response.  I feel as though the students really enjoy the fact that I personalize my response to each student. I also feel as though this builds a positive classroom environment, as each student is shown that their opinion is valued.  The journals can also be used during parent teacher conferences, although it might be a good idea to disclose this to the students before they write.

What happend?

After completing a plus/delta chart, students thoroughly agreed that the math journals enabled them to reflect on how they are doing in the class.  Some students even communicated that the journals were a way to set specific math goals.  Currently, I give students an opportunity to complete a journal entry approximately every two weeks.  A byproduct of using the journals may also lead to personal goal setting and more academic involvement from the student.

What’s next?

I would like to incorporate the idea of utilizing specific math vocabulary in the journals. Not only should the math journals be used for reflection, but they can also be used as another opportunity to practice mathematical concepts.  As an elementary school teacher, I think it’s important for students to have a solid understanding of math vocabulary at a young age.  Having consistent definitions is also important. Certain math vocabulary words that are utilized in first grade will accompany a student throughout their entire life.  For example: multiply, divide, sum, fraction, etc.  Overall, I feel that students will become better at understanding math vocabulary and reflect on their learning through the math journals.  The journals will be used consistenly, so students will observe the progress that they have personally achieved throughout the year.

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