Math Notebooking

Writing about Math and Documenting What You've Learned

Whether you call them math notebooks or math journals, writing about math and documenting math activities are a great way to cement mathematical understanding. And along the way, you're creating a wonderful record of your math studies that can be useful for portfolios or homeschool evaluations.

Grab a three ring binder and some paper. Let's start making math notebooking pages! Here you will find ideas for things to put into math notebooks, math journal prompts, free printable pages, and other math notebooking books and links.

What is Math Notebooking?

What you see in the picture above is math notebooking in action. My daughter is creating equivalent fraction diagrams with fraction manipulatives that we had just used to play a game. Because the manipulatives are made of paper, she can easily affix them to a sheet of paper, add her notes, and store this page in her notebook.

A math notebook is not just a notebook full of boring worksheets and math problems. It's far more than that! It's a notebook filled with a variety of math related ideas and experiences.

The possibilities are many:

  • drawings to illustrate math problems or math concepts
  • written explanations of mental calculations
  • graphic organizers with math concepts
  • math vocabulary lists
  • math inspired art (such as tangram art)
  • an interview of an adult who uses math in his job
  • minibooks
  • copywork related to the science of math
  • newspaper or magazine clippings of math related stories
  • photographs of children doing a hands-on project
  • the actual hands-on materials or manipulatives (use sheet protectors to hold them or tape/glue them on)
  • charts and graphs
  • creative writing that features math within the story
  • an explanation of how a problem was solved
  • biographical sketches of mathematicians from history

Choose whatever kind of notebook you prefer. Some people like spiral bound notebooks, but most notebookers like to use 3-ring binders because of the versatility. With a three ring notebook, you can add in most anything simply by using a sheet protector.

For example, this sleeve protector holds a very long chart we made on fax paper.

Here is my daughter with another long number line that we used for learning hands-on about adding and subtracting integers.

When we're done with the chart, it goes back into the math notebook for storage.

Math Journals

You are limited only by your own imagination. Anything math related can go into your math journal!

Big Book of Math

Big Book of Math (Elementary School K-6)
Big Book of Math (Elementary School K-6)

This resource has ideas and reproducibles for foldables, minibooks, and graphic organizers that can be used for learning and for notebooking.

It is designed for grades 2-8.


Why Should You Keep a Math Notebook?

the benefits of a math journal

Marilyn Burns has written a concise article about the value of math journals (PDF). It's a wonderful introduction to the philosophy behind this instructional method.

Basically, writing about math stimulates a different part of the brain than simply working the arithmetic alone. By using multiple parts of the brain during the learning process, the understanding is deepened and retention is increased. In fact, the more ways you can learn math (through art, music, drawing, writing for example) the more pathways you create in the mind. Those pathways then become a network of various avenues for the student to travel along in doing math problem solving. It's like having four ways to get home from the grocery store instead of just one.

Also, writing about math may be a good lure for a reluctant writer who enjoys math. Use the topic he likes -- math -- for his writing assignments. Paragraphs and essays can even come out of math related topics! And for students who don't particularly like math but excel in verbal activities, math journals are a way to shine in math class! Creative students may also enjoy drawing diagrams and sketches to illustrate math ideas.

Amazingly, the process of writing and the process of mathematical problem solving have some similarities. Both require organized thought and logically presentation. So although the skills are different, there are some similar cognitive functions going on.

Besides helping cement a child's learning, you, the teacher can find out if the child really understands the mathematical concept. By reading a math journal, you get an inside view into your child's math understanding and can then address any errors that you find.

Things to encourage in a math journal entry:

  • the use of correct math vocabulary
  • the use of complete sentences
  • the use of specific examples
  • detailed explanations of results

Free Math Notebooking Pages

There aren't a lot of math themed notebooking pages out there. But as I find them or create them, I'll link to them here. Of course, you can make your own, or you can use general notebooking pages.

Retail Notebooking Pages For Any Subject

I have this set of basic lined pages and highly recommend it for its versatility.

Blog Entries About Math Notebooking

Writing in Math Class

Marilyn Burns is the author of many wonderful math books: I Hate Mathematics Book, The Greedy Triangle, and Grandfather Tang's Story, for example. In Writing in Math Class, she gives lots of practical ideas for incorporating writing into math instruction. Be sure to look inside the book over at Amazon. Some really neat diagrams and illustrations are provided.

Writing Prompts for Math

Need some direction for what to write about? Here are some free online writing prompts that you can use for math.

Notebooking for the Pre-Writer

What about students who don't yet write proficiently? Can they still make math notebooks?

Yes! They can draw pictures or mom can act as a scribe to write down his words for him. Find out more at Notebooking with Younger Children. See examples at Mrs. Meacham's site.

Graphic Organizers for Math

Research in 1990 by Horton, Lovitt, & Bergerud shows that that use of graphic organizers (GOs) is effective for helping both middle school and secondary students to organize and remember academic concepts. To be effective, though, GOs have to be coherent. Make sure that the information is displayed clearly without any irrelevant details. The parts should be clearly labeled with relationships or sequences indicated by numbers, arrows, lines, etc.

Here are some free printable ones to use. First are some general ones and then some specific to math.

Math Graphic Organizers & Writing Prompts

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