Mathematics is a crucial subject that helps students develop logical and analytical thinking skills. However, simply being able to solve mathematical problems does not necessarily mean that students understand the underlying concepts. Writing in math can help educators uncover students’ misconceptions and develop their critical thinking skills.
Writing in Math Reveals Student Misconceptions
Multiple-choice questions may be effective at testing students’ knowledge, but they do not reveal the thought processes behind their answers. Writing assignments, on the other hand, require students to articulate their reasoning and provide evidence to support their answers. This can help educators identify and address any misconceptions that students may have.
For example, consider the true-or-false question: “Two perpendicular lines don’t intersect.” Students may easily select the correct answer (false) but explaining their answer in words can reveal additional information. For instance, some students may view perpendicular as the opposite of parallel and believe that perpendicular simply means two lines that intersect at any angle. Thus educators can adjust their instruction and individualize their approach to ensure all students grasp the concept.
Writing in Math Requires Students to Think Deeply about the Content
Writing assignments that require students to explain a mathematical concept in their own words encourage deeper thinking and understanding. Consequently, this exercise demands a far higher level of thinking than simply executing a procedure or providing a one-word answer.
To demonstrate, consider the concept of multiplying an inequality by a negative number. Students may be able to recall that the direction of the inequality sign must reverse, but when asked to explain why this is true, they may draw a blank. Trying to put the meaning behind this concept into words requires a deeper level of understanding and challenges students to articulate their thought processes.
Writing in Math Meets Common Core State Standards for Using Evidence to Support Arguments
Writing in math aligns with Common Core State Standards for using evidence to support arguments. Students are required to use evidence to support their opinions and connect it to the mathematical concepts they are learning.
For example, an essay assignment requiring students to take a stand for or against the high prices of car insurance for teenagers may seem unrelated to math. But what if you ask them to include statistics about teenage drivers? Then they must deeply understand the statistics to use them in their arguments. So students are using math concepts to support their opinions. Aligning essay topics and math concepts would be a helpful strategy for curriculum developers.
Writing in Math Offers Insights into Students’ Interests and Taps into their Passions
Writing in math class can be an opportunity to make the learning experience more engaging and relevant. For example, a writing assignment could ask students to explore the relationship between math and their favorite hobbies or sports. Students could write about the use of math in video game design or analyze the statistics of their favorite athletes. These types of assignments not only allow students to apply math concepts to real-world scenarios but also provide a chance to connect with their personal interests.
Another way to tap into student interests is by giving them a choice in their writing topics. Rather than assigning a specific math concept to write about, curricula can provide a range of options that allow students to choose a topic they are genuinely curious about. For example, students could choose to write about the geometry of architecture, the math behind music production, or the statistics of social media usage. Giving students the autonomy to choose their writing topics can increase their motivation and investment in the assignment, leading to more thoughtful and creative responses.
Writing about Math is a Skill Used in Everyday Life
In our day-to-day lives, we communicate about math more than we actually do math. Writing a letter to dispute a phone bill, making a sales pitch to a client, or debating baseball statistics with a friend are all examples of everyday math-related communication. Students need to be able to coherently communicate and write about the math they encounter in their lives.
Curricula can mimic these real-world scenarios to help students develop their skills. For instance, students can use shopping scenarios to calculate discounts, sales tax, and the final cost of items. These scenarios can involve using mathematical skills like percentages, fractions, and decimals. Writing about these calculations can help students remember them, and they can use these skills later in life when budgeting for groceries, household bills, or even when investing in the stock market.
By incorporating writing assignments into the math curriculum, educators can help students develop the skills they need to communicate effectively about math in real-life situations.
Additionally, writing in math curriculum is a powerful tool that reveals misconceptions, requires deeper thinking, aligns with Common Core standards, taps into students’ passions, and teaches a skill that is useful in everyday life.
Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching. Wiley.
Crespo, S. (2000). Mathematics and literature: A powerful partnership in the mathematics classroom. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 6(6), 356-361.