What Is a Math Journal?

In my previous post, I encouraged parents, homeschoolers, and teachers to think of math as a nature walk through an infinite world of wonder.

A math journal is a record of your child’s journey through this world of mathematics.

In a math journal, children explore their own concepts about numbers, shapes, and patterns through drawing or writing in response to a question. Journaling teaches them to see with mathematical eyes — not just to remember what we adults tell them, but to create their own math.

Journaling brings math back into the liberal arts. It makes abstract ideas accessible and stretches children’s understanding, building math fluency and creating a solid foundation for future learning.

How To Do It

Journaling works alongside your daily math program to enrich and deepen your child’s experience of math.

Families may add a prompt to their Morning Time routine or discuss a math question over dinner. Some homeschoolers devote one lesson period each week to playing with creative math ideas. Teachers may use math writing in a learning center or as a whole-class activity.

All your students need is a piece of paper, a pencil, and a good prompt to launch their mathematical journey.

Math prompts may include number play, math art, story problems, mini-essays, geometry investigations, brain-teasers, number patterns, research projects, and much more.

A good journaling prompt invites children to take any rabbit trail that interests them and discover whatever they will, without worrying about grades, testing, or state standards.

Benefits of Math Journaling

Everyone can enjoy journaling because creativity is fun. And when children get a chance to be creative in an area they normally think of as drudgery, it feels like a refreshing treat.

Through journaling, children come to realize that learning is more than memorizing facts and procedures, and they develop a richer mathematical mindset.

As they explore their own thoughts, they begin to see connections and make sense of math topics. They grow confident in their ability to think through new problems.

When students write about what they’re learning, they build deeper layers of understanding. The process of wrestling ideas into words forces them to pin down nebulous thoughts and decide what they really believe.

Journaling gets children actively involved in their own learning. They are more likely to remember what they learn when they write it down.

For All Types of Learners

For children who struggle with numbers and abstraction, writing offers a more familiar way to grapple with concepts. It helps them see themselves as mathematical thinkers.

For students who find math easy, writing reminds them that there’s more to being good at math than just getting the right answers.

And for those who struggle with words and language, writing about math can feel more natural than many language-based writing assignments.

Math journaling can help you as a parent or teacher, too. If you want to know what your students understand about math, their writing gives you a glimpse into how they are thinking. Some teachers use journal writing as an “exit slip,” asking students to jot down a sentence or two about each lesson before leaving class.

This Is Not a Lesson

Math journaling is different from the normal process of learning math.

A typical school math book asks questions where the teacher always knows the answer. This turns math into a performance subject in which our children are constantly being judged. Some students enjoy the chance to show off their knowledge, while others feel like failures.

But journaling prompts ask questions for which we adults do not know the answer because the topic gets filtered through each child’s own mind. Students come to a task at their own level and explore their own ideas.

Everyone may learn something different, but they all grow as mathematicians.

The journal prompt is not a lesson to be learned. Even with research prompts that require a student to seek out new information, there is no specific thing we want them to see. It’s more like a directed nature exploration: “What can we find hiding under this log?”

We’re building awareness, helping them see that there’s more to mathematics than they realized.

There Are No Grades

The journal prompt is not a quiz to be graded or an essay to be judged.

Even when a prompt has one specific right answer (which is rare), its primary purpose is to draw out each student’s own creative reasoning. How they approach the problem is much more important than whether they figure out an answer.

Our role as parents and teachers is to listen to the children. We want to hear their ideas and understand what’s going on inside their minds.

When we ask about their own thoughts, our children are the experts.

And that’s an enormously powerful feeling.

Coming Soon in This Series:

This post is an excerpt from 312 Things To Do with a Math Journal, coming this month from Tabletop Academy Press. You can get the special pre-publication ebook edition at my publisher’s store, or preorder the ebook or paperback from your favorite online retailers. Read more about my playful math books here.

CREDITS: Photos by Green Chameleon (top), Martina Vitáková, and Drew Perales on Unsplash.com.

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