Reading and Writing in Maths: a new version of maths homework

This week I will teach a lesson about estimating to my year 9s. The lesson will be a pretty standard one for me: a sequence of tasks and activities, some whole class items but mostly pair work. The lesson will involve some discussion about how and why someone might estimate the answer to a calculation. I’ll be using a few slides, a puzzle, some problems to solve (sourced from UKMT Intermediate contests), and a plenary about a poor guy whose calculator doesn’t display decimal points in answers.

But it’s the homework I want to talk about here. I plan to set a two part homework: read, then write.

1. Read

First students will read an article from earlier this year about two skiers who allegedly tied for first at the Sochi Olympics. Actually, their downhill skiing times were reported as identical due to rounding to two decimal places.

Two skiers tied for first (image: New York Times).
Two skiers tied for first (image: New York Times).

2. Write

Next, students will access a Google form that asks them three questions for which they need to write at least 300 characters (about 3 sentences). Here’s a copy of the form that you are welcome to answer “for fun”. (My students will be using a private version of this.)

I’m excited to see what students write in response to the third question: other examples (outside sport) where rounding of a measurement makes a crucial difference.

I’m interested to see what my students think about being asked to read and write for their maths homework. After reviewing literature and reflecting on my practice last school year, I decided to try a whole range of different homework options this year.

Our school offers the IB diploma for the final two years of secondary school. The maths courses each contain a 20% internal assessment that is a written report. So part of my interest in reading and writing in maths is to prepare students better for writing in maths during the IB diploma.

Have you tried out reading and writing activities in mathematics classes? Please tell me about it in the comments.