There has been a lot of conversations about disciplinary literacy in recent months in my real life professional circles. The intent seems to be going in strange directions in math class towards keywords in word problems and being “ok with writing just to write”. The whole “incorporating reading and writing into the math class” treats the matter as if reading and writing skills are somehow not intrinsic to math and have to be dragged in forcefully.
There is a lot of reading, writing, questioning, inquiring and thinking critically that absolutely has to happen in a math class for students to learn math in a meaningful way. And I also think that often math topics can lead into some great creative writing, art and discoveries across the disciplines. This post is about the latter.
I have blogged extensively about my geometry lessons this year (here and here). I am working with an amazing teaching partner this year, who is taking care of the language arts teaching part of our fifty students’ community. Working with Megan allowed me to regularly cross the imaginary boarders between the subjects without any teachers being hurt in the process. She developed and implemented the writing/reading part of this polygons project.
Polygons Pen Pals
Students have been exploring, classifying and creating their own polygons from tangrams. I noticed some started drawing eyes and hands, and that’s how the project was born. After identifying the properties of their polygons, students gave them names and considered their personalities and life stories.They wrote letters to their unknown polygon pen pals, and next week we hope to exchange the letters and to write responses. I will leave the rest of this post to my students’ work.
Thoughts and Questions
I know that students enjoyed giving “life” and stories to their polygons. I admit my worries that it might have been a superficial connection. There was no mathematical need for written communication and there are still many questions that I wonder about.
Did moving towards creative writing still support my students’ mathematical thinking in some way?
What is the value in putting mathematical objects and relationships into non-mathematical context?
Months later, my students keep bringing up our infinity art/writing/reading lessons; they keep asking mathematical questions and making mathematical connections. My students spent time thinking about dragons and favorite food of their polygons, but they were also very careful making sure they identified their polygons’ “physical” features correctly. Mathematical context created motivation for creative writing which in turn created motivation for mathematical precision. Maybe we do need the whole range of experiences to make sense of the whole range of things and our literacies can be a bit more interdisciplinary.