Math journals and editorial boards, round 1

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Back in October, I wrote about the ambitions I had for journal writing in my class this year. Well, this week the students submitted their first journal. And learning from last year, instead of trying to read 120 multiple-page journals myself, I formed editorial boards in each class where students would peer-review and critique the journals of another class.

How’d it go? Well, the journals themselves were awesome. I’ll have to upload a few at some point. It was obvious that some kids did a rush job, but the majority of them took it seriously and put thought into their reflections.

And everything else? Meh. I seriously underestimated the organizational nightmare of setting up a blind review of the journals. Because everybody knows everybody, I didn’t want the boards to have any impartiality when it comes to seeing a name at the top of the journal (they were all hand-written) and having to assign a grade. Consequently, I scanned the journals, blocked out the name of the author, and reprinted them for the boards to read and assess.

At the same time, I didn’t want the authors to know who reviewed their journal either. So that meant I had to scan the individual review/feedback sheets used by the boards (there was one peer journal), block out the names of the board members, and reprint them for the authors when I returned their journal.

Given the headache that was brought on from organizing this, I didn’t get a clear sense of whether or not the kids valued the process of writing the journals. I’ll have to survey them at some point after they’ve written a few. I’d like to think they appreciate them, but who knows. Plus, I think it’ll be easier for me next time around.

What was cool was that each board had to select 1-2 of the journals they reviewed for “publication.” I’m going to compile a bunch of journals throughout the course of the year into a little book and print it off in the spring.

When I handed the journals back, I publicly celebrated each of the students whose journals were being published in front of the class. They also got this swanky handout detailing next steps. It felt professional although it wasn’t. And it wasn’t the highest performing students whose journals got selected, either. Students who may not get to shine as much as others were spotlighted for their mathematical thinking and writing abilities. This was really, really nice. Best of all, this recognition wasn’t a result of their teacher cheezily trying to boost their morale. Their peers genuinely saw greatness in them and let them know by choosing their journal for publication.



Student as author and critic of mathematics

I’m hoping to improve my students’ journal writing experiences this year. After learning about problem-based journal writing from the work of Joseph Mellor and Carmel Schettino, last year I created/stole a fancy handoutrubric, and told the kids to go write.

I was hopeful for more, but the kids ended up only writing one journal entry. This is totally a result of me assigning in the late in the year, yeah, but mainly because I was too lazy to actually read through them all. I pitifully underestimated how long it would take to read what was essentially 120 essays. English and history teachers out there, I can now finally appreciate your workload. I feel for you.

Fast forward to this year. I’m ready to step my game up. I’m primed to better position my kiddos as authors of mathematics. I tweaked the handout, rubric, and my introductory talk with kids about writing and why it is important — even in math class. Through the journals, they will be formally reflecting and thinking about their own mathematical thinking in a deep-ish sort of way. Just like with the Mathography, I’m pretty sure they’ve never done this before.

One of the key differences this year is that instead of me being the authority figure on providing feedback and grades (and putting this onus on myself for reading ALL those journals), I am forming six editorial boards in each class. Each board will be a yearlong grouping of students who will peer-review the journals.

I got this idea after I read The Art of Problem Posing by Stephen I. Brown and Marion I. Walter this summer. After they’re turned in, I will distribute 4-6 journals to each editorial board, who will use the rubric to do a blind-review (I will remove all names of journals) to discuss, assess, critique, and give feedback on the mathematical writing of the authors. I will have final say on all marks, but I will fully expect integrity, honesty, and fairness from the boards. And by reading through and analyzing so many of their classmates journals, I hope that their own mathematical writing gets better over the course of the year.

I’m really hopeful that they’ll get to write four journals over the course of the year. What’s really cool is that after each round of submissions, each editorial board will select one journal that they read to be published at the end of the year. By “published,” I mean featured in a compilation that I will print out in a little booklet in the spring. It’ll look and feel professional…like this one that I came across at TMCNYC this past summer from Ramon Garcia who teaches at Borough of Manhattan Community College Adult Learning Center:

By the end of the year, I want every student to get at least one journal entry published.

I’m not 100% confident in any of this, but I am very excited. At a minimum, I know it can’t be any worse than last year!




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