Math Word Field Notes: A Collaborative Project Across Subject Areas

Students from language arts and math classes team up to create one-page field guides for key mathematical concepts. By Jade McDaniel Feb. 22, 2023, 4:00 a.m. ET This teaching idea was submitted by Jade McDaniel, who teaches Technical Reading and Writing at the Dayton Regional STEM School in Dayton, Ohio. Do you teach with The Times? Tell us about it here, or browse our full collection of reader ideas. Project Overview As a subscriber to The Learning Network’s newsletter, I discovered last spring the Word Field Note Challenge, an activity inspired by the work of Rebekah O’Dell that tasked students with creating “field notes” for vocabulary words from The New York Times. The challenge invited students to create a one-page guide that illustrated and deeply explored the meaning of a word of their choice, like naturalists recording notes on their discoveries in nature. Seeing the combination of vocabulary, graphs and creative formatting in this project, I saw potential connections between language arts and math classes. At the Dayton Regional STEM School, where I teach, we collaborate across content areas and grade levels using a Project Based Learning model. My class, Technical Reading and Writing (T.R.W.), is the 11th-grade language arts requirement, and it focuses on preparing students for reading and writing in the real world. In this course, students create and design résumés, cover letters, proposals and instructions, among other documents that communicate information clearly and concisely. In this project, pairs of my students teamed up with small groups of 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade math students in Algebra II, Precalculus and Calculus to create field notes for math terms. This project helped students practice elements of graphic design and formatting, as well as better understand the etymology of math terms and delve deeper into the multiple definitions and uses of basic math concepts. Warm-Up: Finding Inspiration Image One of the winning entries from The Learning Network’s Word Field Note Challenge. One of the winning entries from The Learning Network’s Word Field Note Challenge.Credit…Lucia Červenková and Nina Gašparíková In Technical Reading and Writing, we began this mini-unit by analyzing the seven student winners from the Word Field Note Challenge, including the one pictured above. Students focused on the informational content, the overall design and theme, and the aesthetic elements of each presentation. This initial approach provided students with examples of and inspiration for their own projects; they were excited to begin after seeing some of the creative pieces published on The Learning Network. In the math classes, students started by discussing a list of words specific to important concepts from their previous math course (so, for example, the Algebra II students reviewed words from Algebra I, the Precalculus students reviewed words from Algebra II, and so on). Main Activity: Research, Collaboration and Design Students in each class chose one of the following math terms provided by teachers to focus on for their field notes: Image The math students then began their research, focusing on their word’s definition, historical context and development; frequency and consistency of use, equation and notation; and images or symbols associated with it. They sent their research to pairs of students in T.R.W. who had chosen the same term. With the information provided by the math students, and using the word field notes as inspiration, the student pairs in T.R.W. designed and formatted the guides. They used programs such as Canva, PowerPoint and Adobe Illustrator, and applied what they had learned about the document design principles of headings, access, typography and spacing. They also researched and included the term’s nonmathematical definitions, origins and several other components of their choice, including synonyms and antonyms, Chinese translations, and personal connections. Once the T.R.W. students finished a draft of their field note, they emailed it back to the math team for feedback to ensure all the math was correctly represented. Using a checklist and our school’s Thinking Hats feedback method, inspired by Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, students gave feedback on the drafts including Yellow Hat notes (What currently works about their product?) and Green Hat (What could be improved about their product?). T.R.W. students revised and finalized their field notes, which will be hung on the walls of the math classes, reminding current and future students of the various terms needed to better understand content in Algebra I, Algebra II, Precalculus and Calculus. Student Outcome: Math Word Field Notes Here are several of the mathematical field notes students created, in addition to the one at the top of this post: Image Credit…T.R.W. team: Norah Ndabambalire and Anshula Appam; Math team: Kayla Brown and Norah Ndabambalire Image Credit…T.R.W. team: Cadee Lawson and Javeria Shaikh; Math team: Kimi Conyers and Roxanne Slone Image Credit…T.R.W. team: Tayla Robinson and Hannah Pond; Math team: Oliver Hammes and Tayla Robinson Image Credit…T.R.W. team: Megan Noel and Catharine Logan; Math team: Cadee Lawson and Catharine Logan This mini-project was one of the first collaborative projects for their junior year, and the reaction and feedback from students was resoundingly positive. “I found it a really nice way to be creative but also resourceful,” said Jillian Overmyer, a junior in T.R.W. Another junior, Braylon Thompson, said, “The field note project applied the content we learned to something creative in a way that made the project fun.” During this project, math students could reflect on mathematical terms they’d learned the previous year, and explore the boundaries and important components of the concepts behind those words. In T.R.W., they were able to apply what they had learned about document design to create a final product that was aesthetically pleasing and well-organized for viewers. And, the students had created artifacts that could be used in current and future math classes to help others learn about and review math concepts and build on and apply that knowledge throughout the school year. Going Further: Trying This Project in Other Subject Areas While it can be difficult to find connections between math and language arts that feel organic and authentic, this variation of The Learning Network’s original Word Field Note Challenge was the perfect combination for our classes and content. There are countless other variations of this mini-project that could be applied to collaborations between other content areas. For example, students in a science class might work with students in language arts on creating field notes for scientific terms. Math students could join the language arts and science students to explore the similarities and differences in processes and vocabulary in some areas of math and science. Similarly, students in social studies classes might collaborate with art students to create field notes about events in history or terms in government. There are endless possibilities for using the field note to explore various academic terms and content.

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