Writing is a crucial component of learning mathematics. As an adjunct professor teaching literacy courses to graduate students earning their teaching certificates, our classes examine ways to incorporate reading, writing, communication, and critical thinking across disciplines for student success. This blog post is part of a series and I am first going to focus on writing in mathematics classes. It is not only important for students to understand the concepts in math, but also to communicate their understanding to others. Writing in math class can help students develop their mathematical thinking, problem-solving skills, and communication skills. In this blog post, we will explore six specific examples of how writing can be used effectively in math class.
- Math Journaling: Math journaling involves asking students to reflect on what they have learned in math class. This can include writing about the steps they took to solve a problem, the strategies they used, and the challenges they faced. By reflecting on their learning, students can identify areas where they need more practice and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts they are learning.
- Problem-Solving: Writing can also be used as a tool for problem-solving. When students are presented with a math problem, they can write out their thought process, including any assumptions they are making, the strategies they are using, and the steps they are taking to arrive at a solution. This helps students to organize their thinking and identify any errors or misconceptions they may have.
- Explanations: Writing can be used to explain mathematical concepts to others. Students can be asked to write about a particular concept or problem, explaining it in their own words. This not only helps them to solidify their own understanding, but also helps to develop their communication skills.
- Reflection: Reflection is an important part of the learning process. Writing can be used to help students reflect on their own learning. For example, students can be asked to write about what they found challenging in a particular lesson, what they learned, and how they can apply that learning in other contexts.
- Vocabulary: Mathematics has a unique vocabulary, and it can be challenging for students to learn and remember all of the terms. Writing can be used to reinforce the vocabulary by asking students to write about the meaning of particular terms or to use them in a sentence. This helps students to internalize the vocabulary and become more confident in their understanding of the concepts.
- Research: Mathematics is a dynamic field, and there are always new discoveries and advancements being made. Writing can be used to encourage students to research a particular topic or concept, and to share their findings with the class. This not only helps to deepen their own understanding of the topic, but also exposes them to new ideas and perspectives. In fact, back when I was in middle school I was assigned to read and write a report about women in mathematics. In the Literacy in Content Areas course I share the first chapter from Ian Stewart’s Letters to A Young Mathematician where he writes how math is in everything in our lives. What if students had to uncover the mathematics behind coding or engineering. Their research can make visible how math is all around us. Students can present their research in a formal writing assignment or even a video.
- Creative Writing: Mathematics can often be seen as a dry, technical subject. However, creative writing can be used to bring a sense of fun and creativity to math class. For example, students can be asked to write a short story or poem (try an ode to your favorite number) that involves mathematical concepts. This could include a story about a group of friends who use their knowledge of fractions to divide a pizza, or a poem that explores the beauty of geometry. By engaging in creative writing, students can approach math from a different angle and develop a deeper appreciation for the subject. Additionally, it allows students to express their creativity and individuality, making math class a more enjoyable and inclusive experience for all. There are great stories in include with the creative writing from reading aloud the picture book Numbers in Motion about Sophie Kowalevski’s journey as the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics, which required original research, holding a university chair in mathematics, and becoming the editor of a major scientific journal. Additionally, Kathryn Otoshi’s picture books Zero, One and Two all personify the numbers and tell memorable stories about feelings, friendships, and counting.
Writing is an essential tool for learning mathematics. It can help students to reflect on their learning, develop their problem-solving skills, and communicate their understanding to others. By incorporating writing into math class, educators can help students to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts they are learning and prepare them for success in future mathematical endeavors.