Sunday, August 02, 2020

#MTBoSBlaugust - Digital Problem Solving Notebook

I have been teaching some version of a math methods course since I arrived at the University of Richmond in 1994. Over these years the course has changed many times in content and form. As new licensure requirements were recently enacted, we revised our elementary math sequence to include two courses instead of one. Here's the introduction from my syllabus that describes these two courses.
This course is the first in a two course elementary math methods sequence. Both courses offer an in-depth examination of fundamental mathematical concepts and subject-specific pedagogy while emphasizing and integrating state and national standards, problem-solving approaches, use of manipulatives and technology, current research, and learning theory. 
510U focuses on the content of whole numbers and their operations, algebraic thinking in the early grades, measurement, probability, and statistics. 
511U focuses on the content of rational numbers and their operations, algebraic thinking in the later grades, and geometry.  
510U focuses on the pedagogy of guided math, math discourse, and the standards of mathematical practice.
511U focuses on the pedagogy of differentiation and collaborative teaching strategies. It includes a supervised practical experience using a Response to Intervention (RTI) approach that emphasizes using data to make decisions based upon students’ needs, monitor progress, and develop individualized mathematical interventions.
I taught the class for the first time this summer. Because of COVID, it was fully online, a format for instruction I have long avoided. It was a rough 8 weeks. I've thought a lot about the  course and how I can improve upon it for the fall. As we prepare for the semester, the university has asked us to prepare all courses to be fully online, even if we are planning to meet face-to-face. Some students will be opting not to return to campus and will need to access our courses in the same way as students sitting in the  classroom. 

As part of this preparation, I've decided to move one of my traditional paper and pencil assignments to a digital format. I think this will be a good model for preservice teachers to explore as they think about how to deliver online instruction themselves.

I've created this notebook using Google Slides. I plan to use Alice Keeler's terrific Pile of Google Slides to push the notebook to students and update it. Currently, Part 1 of the notebook has 5 entries. Here's a preview.
These are just examples of the direction pages. The notebook opens with a problem solving autobiography assignment. Each week, students work on solving different problem types. Normally, or in pre-COVID days, I would introduce each problem type and solve an example aloud so students could understand my thought processes. Then, students would with a partner or small group to work through some examples together. During the next week, students would tackle more difficult problems on their own and reflect on the strategies they used, where they struggled, and how they worked through mistakes and challenges. When we returned to class the next week, we would debrief the problem type and start on a new one.

This summer my students kept traditional notebooks. We solved problems together on Zoom and they solved problems out of a packet of materials I sent them, but they had to photograph their work and upload the images each week. I think this was pretty cumbersome, so I'm hoping this digital notebook will be easier to use.

I hope others will find this useful. You can download a copy of Part 1 of the notebook. Please feel free to edit and adapt to your own needs.

That's it for day 2 of #MTBoSBlaugust. I hope you'll come back tomorrow to see what else I have to share.


  1. Thank you for sharing about how to do a digital notebook on Google Slides! I've been toying with the idea of a digital notebook, but it seems so daunting. I look forward to hearing more about your plan!

  2. This is AWESOME!