Math Autobiography

Math Autobiographies

The start of the school year is coming up quickly.   Very soon schools across the country will be bustling with staff, students and parents.  I’m not setting up my classroom until mid August so I’ve prepped materials all this week.  During the past few weeks my RSS feed (R.I.P. Google Reader, hello Feedly) has been filling up with passionate posts related to goal setting. These posts have allowed me time to reflect on my classroom and put together a few initiatives for the fall.  One of my goals revolves around the concept of math reflections.

I’m always advocating for interdisciplinary units of study in the classroom, so incorporating student reflections is one way that I integrate math and language arts.  Even at the elementary level, student reflections have so much potential.  In fact, I worked with a group of first grade students last year on reflecting on our learning experiences near the end of the year.  As an introduction we started by talking about the words “My Mathematical Journey” that’s displayed on the outside of my classroom door.  We called it our “scrapbooking” time, as most of their parents had some form of a scrapbook and the idea connected to reflections.

My upper elementary classes already use math journals, but we haven’t delved into math autobiographies … yet.  Ideally, I’d like to have students create an autobiography of their mathematical journey so far.  While the journey hasn’t been long, it’s still worthwhile to discuss and reflect upon.   While researching a few options I came across these sites:

  • John Burk’s post – This post gives some practical questions to ask students when discussing students’ math experiences.  I actually started at this site and branched out to the sites below.
  • Algebra 1 Blog – This blog contains essay prompts with student replies.  This is a prime site if you’re looking for student examples, as there’s over 100 sample responses.
  • Math Autobiography Slideshare – I was thinking that this example might be one way to construct a math autobiography.  Adding pictures, narration, etc. might be a decent way to present a student’s math journey.  I found that this Prezi is also another method that could be used in the elementary classroom.

There are a lot of resources and examples available on the topic of math autobiographies. Most are geared towards middle school and beyond, most likely because of the writing component involved.  So, I’m going to use a few ideas from the above links to adapt the autobiography assignment for my students.

To start, I’m going to give my students a digital camera.  Why?  Similar to Matt Gomez, I believe the digital camera can be an amazing tech tool in the classroom.   Students will take pictures of themselves in different poses:  with math manipulatives, books, the classroom, etc.  I’ll print out the authentic pictures (hopefully in color) and students will write captions under each picture.  Students will place their own pictures and captions in their own math journal in chronological order.  I believe the photos can all be glued into each student’s math journal.  As the year progresses the students might want to add more photos and captions to extend their math autobiography.

In a few months I’m hoping to write a another blog post showing the results of this idea.

photo credit: This Year’s Love via photopin cc

4 Ways to Encourage Student Self-Reflection in Math Class

Math teachers have a variety of tools that can enhance the learning process.  Technology, math manipulatives and problem-based learning activities can all play an important role in a math classroom.  Regardless of the tools or strategies, one of the most powerful motivators that I’ve utilized over the past few years deals with the concept of reflection.  Adults often learn by experiencing events and reflecting on them later.  Generally the reflection lets us make better or more informed decisions in the future.  Many educators blog, which I believe is one form of reflection.  Allowing students opportunities to reflect on their math learning experiences, including celebrations and mistakes can be time that is well spent.  A sense of ownership develops when students begin to understand that their success isn’t only dependent on the teacher or tools within the classroom, but on themselves as well.  Reflection is especially powerful after making mistakes.  By reflecting on math mistakes, whether they are procedural, formula issues, or simple errors, students become aware that mistakes are part of the learning process and shouldn’t be on the taboo list.  How do we give students opportunities to reflect in math? Here are four possible ideas:

  • Math Journals – This is a great way to gauge a student’s understanding of particular math concepts.  I’m continuing to find that students are using their math journals to communicate their conceived strengths and personal concerns.  Students are asked to reflect on their learning experiences in the journal through various journal prompts.  I check the journals periodically and am able to provide feedback to individual students.
  • Student Led Math Conferences – Throughout the year I have personal math conferences with the students.  Students bring their formative assessments to the conference and the student reflects on their progress.  We work together to find areas that need strengthening and write a personal goal related to specific academic concepts.  Students may decide to bring their math journal to their math conference.
  • Class Anchor Charts or Plus/Delta Chart – After a formative assessment or test the class may have a discussion about what problems on the assignment caused concerns.  We then reflect on the processes used to find the answer and have a thorough discussion about the mathematical process.
  • Blogging – Student blogs allow time to reflect on their mathematical process.  Students can blog about how they solved a particular problem and what steps were needed.  I find that blog explanations are especially useful when explaining solutions to problem-based learning activities.  It’s also a stellar documentation tool.   Keep in mind that the blogs may be public and not all students want to wave their mistakes in the air.

photo credit: doctor paradox via photopin cc

How do you encourage student reflections in math class?

Student Self-Reflections

photo credit: karola riegler photography via photopin cc

Over the past few years my teaching practice has evolved.  Growth in the teaching profession often occurs through experience and professional development.  As continuous learners, teachers generally hone in on their craft over time.  I believe reflecting on teaching experiences plays a role in the professional growth of an educator.

  • How often are teachers able to reflect on their craft?

I’d hope that it would be more often than not at all.  Personally, reflecting on past experiences can lead to better decision making and goal setting in the future.  They’re many ways in which educators can reflect.  Off the top of my head I can think of:  after a professional development session, reading or commenting on a blog post, participating in an education twitter chat, attending workshops, and many more.

  • If educators feel that reflecting on experiences is important, why not give students opportunities to reflect on their progress?

Absolutely.  One way in which reflection has been beneficial in my classroom is actually rooted in the formative assessment process.  Local formative assessments give quality information that can be used to drive instruction in the classroom, while other data (standardized assessments) are used for district/state/nation purposes.  Formative assessment data not only serves the teacher, but it also informs students of areas of strengths and concerns.  Last year I decided to have my students use a reflection journal to analyze their own achievement levels in class.  Students reviewed their formative assessments, usually in the form of exit cards, and wrote a short paragraph regarding how they performed.  I asked the students to write a few sentences related to how close they are in understanding the concepts observed on the exit card.  Every so often, generally after a grading period, students were guided to setting individual goals for themselves. These goals were based on the journal entries and learning experiences throughout the grading period.  This process required modeling during the introduction phase, but after two grading periods the students were ready to complete this independently.

I vaguely remember using journals during my K-12 experience.  The teachers that assigned the journal entries rarely wrote any comments back to me.  This peeved me as a student and I’m over it still does as an educator.  Therefore, I make a conscious attempt to review all the student reflection journals and write short individualized comments to the students.  The comments show the students that their teacher is aware and cares about their progress.  This action is especially important to students that might not be as assertive in class or might be embarrassed to state how they truly feel.  I place an emphasis on the student created goal. Student goals are highlighted  as I will often share them with the parents to ensure that we’re all working towards the same end goal.

I also find that the student reflection journals show student growth on a personal level.  When growth is evident, students often gain confidence in setting new goals.  Reflecting on progress made can be a tremendous opportunity to set goals.  These goals can empower students to own their learning.

Side note:

 Reflections can take on many different forms.  Incorporating various prompts throughout the entire school year also communicates to the students that goals don’t have to be directly associated with scores.  In the past I’ve used field trips, current events, literature, and problem based learning activities for reflection journal prompts.  

* Feel free to visit Helen Barret’s reflection for learning site for more information on this topic.

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