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Mathematics Scrapbooks

Wednesday 12 June 2013

'Thinking about what we keep and how we keep it'

This is an old blog post I wrote last year somewhere else. It has come back to my mind again because I recently read an article in the MT journal from the UK association of teachers of mathematics by Corrine Wolfe who has been experiementing with these journals. The article referred to work that has been done by Mike Ollerton. I am excited to have got in touch with him about this and this is spurring me on to do something with this idea! I will write a follow up post with more that I find out and decide. Below is a summary of the thoughts I have been having....

Throughout my teaching career I have tried and experimented with all sorts of ideas to help students keep useful records of what they do! 15 years later I have yet to settle on something I really like and, more to the point, something I think students really like and find useful! I started with the traditional exercise book and moved towards files, pieces of paper and plastic wallets. In between, the digital revolution has offered new opportunities and brought new record keeping issues with it. I have tried getting students to keep a mixture of digital and paper records. I have even tried to get students to build their own handbooks for future reference as they go along. With all this in mind, this blog post is only questions about this idea along with a couple of ideas I am working on.

  • What activity that students do, do they really need to keep records of?
  • How many of our students regularly, or indeed ever, look at those records?
  • How many parents ever look at it and if they do, how much do they get out of it?
  • How much of our activity do we keep ourselves?
  • How much do we look at?
I suspect that in the vast majority of cases, paper and pages in a book get filed away never to be seen by anyone again. The more time passes, the less sense the bits of papers make because the context has passed. In truth only summary documents are likely to be of any use, tests for example. Personally, I keep so much more than I ever look at. Yes, I will often find a gem in amongst some piles of paper (or amongst an archive of files) but I often wish I had been clever enough to file it under 'Gems' at the time and not bothered with the other stuff. I think I will argue that the more we keep, the less useful it is, but that if we have nothing physical to show for our efforts it somehow feels wrong.
Here is an idea I am playing with to take things on a little...
A Mathematics journal!
I am sure this is not a new idea and would be really glad to hear from anyone that has experimented with this.
Forget everything else and just get students to keep a journal to chronicle their experiences  discoveries and any bits of information they want to hold on to. Rather than include everything they did why dont we get them to pick out the highlights? Take pictures and paste them in, take screenshots of digital work, get students to tell stories about what we did in class and what they got out of it. The end result would be a kind of scrapbook of the key moments and best bits. A mixture of images, diagrams and words that will serve to make and preserve memories of experiences that help them to make sense of what they have done, why they did it and what they concluded at each stage. Because it is not everything, students might be inspired to take pride in making something fabulous that they have ownership over.
My only, although tricky, dilema is the best format. Even as a technophile, I am drawn towards the creation of a physical book that might be of a similar ilk to the 'Art sketchbook' or the 'Design technology portfolio'. This, though, feels somehow like a step backwards. Its funny though that people want to make prints and books of their digital photos these days as well as sharing them digitally. The other alternatives I have been playing with are perhaps a blog or an ongoing google presentation.
Anyway, this has been occupying my thoughts today and I think I will pick some small groups of students and experiment a little to see what happens! All thoughts and suggestions welcomed!


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