Thursday, July 21, 2011

Incorporating Writing in Math

With students returning in just a few weeks, I am digging through old materials looking for lesson ideas. Tonight, I ran across this...

The question "why so much writing?" can be answered in three basic ways:
1. Writing promotes clear thinking.
2. Writing promotes effective and long-term retention of what has been learned.
3. Writing provides individuals and groups in a complex world with a voice and a record.

Students need to understand that writing is the single most powerful tool for thinking, learning and participating in the broad culture of a society.

Source: Write Path Mathematics from AVID

Now my question... how do you incorporate writing in your classroom?


Dan M. said...

It's a tough call -- I've always looked for topics that are mathematical yet completely unrelated to the materials learned in the classroom. I'm a big fan of discussion instead of essays. Having said all that, I am still trying to find that happy middle ground where it all works... :)

Ms. Hitchcock said...

I have successfully used POW's from IMP as writing assignments. The students not only have to figure out a problem, but then must explain it in a logical and clear manner. I assigned the problems once per quarter instead of a "project". The students improved greatly over the course of the year. I will say that I was extremely critical from the outset and the students did rise (eventually) to the high standard.

Tim Erickson said...

I give a lot of assignments i my "regular" stats class where writing plays a part. It doesn't have to be LONG, essay-like, project writing (though we do projects). One key (as you point out) is to demonstrate and fortify clear thinking.

For example, looking at some data, what's a claim you might make? Then, in class, we look at (anonymized) responses and critique. It's only a sentence, but you can still ask, What's good? What makes it interesting? What's unclear? How could you make it clearer?

Then we did a bunch of medium-length assignments, more like a page, with some prescribed organization, namely, "Sonatas for Data and Brain" from "Data in Depth." It starts with a question. The student writes three sections: Prediction (what do you think the answer is, based on prior knowledge); Measurement (get data and analyze it); and Comparison (compare your prediction to the real data).

In one example, the question is, "How is the height of a building related to the number of stories it has?" Predictions can start very simple (the more stories, the taller it is) but we work towards being quantitative. I ask for graphs with scaled axes. So the writing INCLUDES GRAPHICS. I think this is really important. Kids don't know how to choose and insert figures, how to refer to them sensibly, and so forth. It's not hard for them, either, as soon as they know what you want, but they don't learn it in English.

The comparison is key. What do they say about the difference between prediction and data? This gives them lots of chances to describe mathematical things and, with feedback, get better at it. What starts out as "I was so wrong" grows into "I predicted a slope of 15, and I was really surprised that it was only 11.2 (feet per story). But what really surprised me was the intercept -- over 100 feet. What's up with that? I mean, a building with zero stories is zero feet tall, right?"

Anyway, then we did a big, five-page-ish project. Last Fall's was hugely successful: Choose a phenomenon in American history and illustrate it using Census microdata.

druin said...

Thanks to all of you! You have given me a lot to think about. I don't know that I'm quite ready to tackle a project length paper, but I'm looking more for daily "quickwrite" type ideas to get kids to process their thinking.

Summer is quickly fading away and I still have so much to figure out! Thanks again :)

Teresa Ryan said...

I have students write in journals, sometimes to a prompt, or about a difficult problem. I often have them write out how they solved a problem or how they think they should attempt to solve a problem if they don't know how to solve.

I will sometimes have them correct quizzes or tests, and in doing this write what mistakes they made, what corrections they need to make, and why the new process works better for solving the problem. Just like your said in your post, the writing causes them to think, remember and understand things much bette.r