Journal Exchange With Elementary Students Strengthens Math Skills and Trust

It was a party enjoyed by all.

It included holiday snacks, good conversation and Sodoku puzzles.

“I realized how smart my journal buddy is,” NWU junior Bobby Brown said after the party. “He’s way better at figuring those puzzles out than I am.”

It was the second personal meeting between nearby Huntington Elementary School fifth-graders and NWU students enrolled in the “Math For Elementary Teachers” course. But the group of 60 has been friends for much longer.

For the past nine years, both schools have participated in a math journal exchange. Early in the academic year, students exchange names and regularly journal back and forth to each other. They journal about their math lessons, give each other math problems, and ask math questions of each other.

The groups meet in person midpoint in the semester and again at the end of the semester for a celebratory party.

The experience has also established new levels of friendship and trust. In addition to math, the students journal about their everyday lives: their hobbies, their health, their home lives.

“My partner would often tell me about her family and friends,” said NWU junior Melissa Sorensen. “She once was having a problem with a friend and she wrote to me about it. It made me feel good that she would open up to me like that.”

For Brown, the experience is a frequent reminder of his purpose in college.

“This experience helped remind me why I decided to become a teacher,” said Brown. “It’s easy to get stuck in the monotony of school, but the journal exchange reminded me that the monotony has a purpose.”

The annual exchange — which is organized by Huntington Elementary School teacher Diane Mickey and NWU math professor Melissa Erdmann — has grown to something more than what they originally intended nine years ago.

“Writing in the content areas has been linked to developing higher order thinking skills, critical reasoning, problem solving, and analytical thinking,” said Mickey. “When I was first asked to participate in this math journaling project, I had no idea what a positive impact this would have on my students.”

The recent end-of-semester party marked an end to this year’s personal visits, but some will continue to write their buddies, said Erdmann.

“All of the students were so engaged in solving the math puzzles, sharing stories and enjoying their snacks,” Mickey said of the party. “There was such a positive energy in the room, yet it was so calm and quiet as they worked and visited. We were amazed that a room could be filled with 60 students and every one of them was engaged.”

The exchange is a win-win situation for both schools, said Brown.

“I enjoy getting the chance to be a kid again,” he said. “I’m thankful for the journal exchange because it was a reality check."

Creativity

This is an example of the creative pedagogy shown by NWU math professors. Prospective elementary school teachers are well-served by this exchange program.

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NWU junior Bobby Brown discusses a journal entry with a Huntington Elementary School fifth grader.