Math + English = success!

By Jillian Milam
November 4, 2005

Jerry Zurek

Imagine taking a math course where your problem-solving skills were equally important as your writing skills. Imagine sitting at your desk every day and having to express yourself through words instead of numbers in your daily math journal. Writing? In math class? What gives?

Megan Clementi, adjunct math professor at Cabrini, has learned throughout her years the importance of writing and the benefits it brings to students. Although the subject she specializes in, math, involves numbers and calculators, she has now introduced English and journal-writing to her mathematics scholars.

Her interest in the value of writing stems from a graduate class she took with Dr. Arthur Young, English professor. She was assigned to write a paper for this class, regarding the idea of writing across the curriculum. She spent many nights researching this topic and she quickly learned how advantageous writing could be for students, in any class.

She was teaching students at the same time she was taking Young’s class; therefore, she brought what she learned from this experience into her classroom right away.

“I started having students write about what they were learning. The idea is to have them not only solve problems, but to have them explain it to me through writing. How do you solve this problem?” Clementi said. “They keep journals for in-class work and also homework. There’s about 30 questions over the course of the semester, which gives the students and I a chance to have a dialogue that’s private.”

Another experience that aided Clementi in understanding the importance of writing in the classroom was an intensive four-week long workshop for teachers, held this past summer from 8-3 p.m. every day.

“Want to try something new? Something unique?” These were the words of a slogan that caught Clementi’s attention. After reading the advertisement for the four-week Writing Institution Program entitled PAWLP, Pennsylvania Writing Literature Project at West Chester University, Clementi became intrigued and signed up immediately.

“I heard colleagues talk about how they get their students to write,” she said. “I was the only math teacher there. I know some people think, ‘why would a math teacher spend a large chunk of her summer in an English course?’ I was even told that it was quite strange because English and math are two different entities,” Clementi said.

However, combining math and English has proven to be a great teaching method for teachers and a positive learning experience for students. Clementi believes that many students begin college with negative feelings towards math. Furthermore, she believes that many students feel more comfortable and more successful with English. “So I combine the two,” she said. “Some people are math-phobic but are good in English. By using writing in my classes, it helps build self-esteem and makes them use both sides of the brain,” Clementi said. “I always tell my students, you know more than you think you know!”

Clementi explained that learning through writing is similar to preparing for an exam with a “study buddy.” She said, “If you can explain the material to someone else so that they get it, then you understand it. This is similar to what I do with my math class. If my students can explain it to me, then they know the material well enough.”

So next time you sit down in math class, you might want to pull out not only your calculators and pencils, but some paper and a pen as well.

“I think it ultimately helps my students learn much better,” Clementi said. “I like to build on where they’ve been successful before in order to be successful in math. I tell my students, ‘I believe every one of you can earn an A. Will it take hard work? You better believe it.and I know you can do it.'”

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Posted to the web by Matt Schill

Jillian Milam

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