Made4Math - Mathography

Like several others, I was inspired by #made4math, so I started this blog as a place to share.  It didn't take me long to decide on the first thing to share, and I hope others will be able to adapt and use this assignment.

I always tell my students that if I didn't teach math, I would teach English because I love to read, and I try to find as many opportunities as possible to get them to write.  On the first day of school, instead of completing a getting to know you form, I ask my students to complete a "Mathography," which is an autobiography with some math questions thrown in for fun.

For (at least) the past 15 years I have given this "essay" to every one of my math students (8th grade through AP Calculus) and I couldn't ask for a better first day of school assignment.   The students are not too happy about such an assignment on the first day of school, but their papers are always honest, revealing, and oh-so-insightful, and I read their essays several times throughout the year.

I change the questions a bit each year, depending on the course, but I have included most of my past prompts, and I usually ask 5-6 questions each year.  When I have repeater students (when I have taught Algebra 2 one year and Pre-Calculus the next year, for example) I change the questions quite a bit to reflect already knowing some of the kids' background information.  When I teach seniors, I add a few more questions about future plans, colleges, etc., and I can use their essays when I write recommendation letters.

The students are (almost) always so positive and excited during the first week of school, and they all have great goals.  After reading their papers, I know all of the "getting to know you" information, plus the students reveal how they feel about school and math in general.  They often give me personal information as well, such as family information (dealing with illness, divorce, death) or personal struggles.  For the question "Is there anything else I should know about you?" I give these examples: one student wrote she always forgot her glasses so she needed to sit in front, and another wrote her best friend was in the class and they talk too much, so please don't seat them next to each other.  (Sage advice from a teen, right?)

One new addition for this year will be for my juniors to comment with a sentence or two to our class blog.  I'm still tweaking the post, but I envision the post as an introduction to me, our class, our class culture and expectations.


For my ESL students, I provide a fill-in-the-blank version.  For the past several years, I have taught a "newcomer" class, and most of my students are refugees.  If a student cannot answer any of the questions on the first page, I know to immediately begin as many interventions as possible!
ESL intro

I "stole" the Mathography idea from Julie H., one of my first math department chairs.  (She posted the papers outside of her classroom, but I treat them as confidential documents.)  I have also seen something similar in one of the AVID "Write-Path" books.  Could this assignment work for you?  Any suggestions?  I hope you'll be able to incorporate at least parts of a Mathography in your classroom--it is such a great way to get to know your students. Enjoy!