Digitizing Your Math Work: The Mathies Notebook Tool

Technology assisted mathematics is fairly standard these days. We have computers working full-time to find the next largest prime number. You can Google any calculation you want. Yesterday I wanted to to calculate the surface area of a cylinder, so I Googled “cylinder with radius 4, height 9.5”. Sure enough, the answer popped up.

I am not a novice at calculating the surface area of a cylinder, though- I can tell you exactly how the formula is built, and why it works. In this case, the calculation was just tedious, so I skipped doing it.

Humans are born to think, machines are made to follow instructions. They are only going to get better at calculating, as they get faster and more powerful.

K-12 classrooms do not generally outsource too much mathematical work to computers, and rightly so- novice mathematics learners are learning to use the skills and tools of mathematics, figuring out how numbers and other mathematical objects work, seeking patterns, and learning how to do calculations.

There are lots of tools kids can use to actually “do” the math, digitally, and I am generally of a mind that there is no replacing paper, unless the digital tools are close at hand, and don’t take time away from actually doing mathematics.

Digital tools must not get in the way of working and thinking, otherwise, we are looking at technology for technology’s sake.

Technological tools can add different viewpoints, or vantage points on questions, tasks, and problems, however.

There are many tools to capture student thinking in mathematics classrooms.

The great developers at have developed a Notebook tool for writing on the screen, and recording student work. What follows is some work from an adult webinar session.

What is key is giving kids a workflow to get their work out of the app or program when working with technological tools.

Samples of adult work on two common tasks.

These common tasks having to do with fractions are , and a fraction “flag” from .

Consider for yourself whether the work shown is an upgrade over doing it on paper. Possible advantages: having colours right at hand, and being able to erase. Overlaying the grid also will happy, if you are looking at fractions through an area model.

Teachers need to explain the required or suggested workflow to kids if they are to be successful with any technological tool.

Let’s repeat this point: don’t assume that your students know the steps necessary to carry out a successful workflow with any digital tool. There are not digital natives, although many now were born into a world that has always had the Internet.

We are analog natives, born into the beauty, mystery, and wonder of Planet Earth. We are tactile, and we are sensory, but digital tools can enhance our senses.

Here is a suggested workflow for either of these tasks:

  • show your students how to save the images on an iPad, or a Chromebook. If you use Google Classroom, you could put the images in an activity or folder for them.
  • show them how to “pull” the image into the Mathies Notebook tool.
  • show them how to extract the work at the end. A suggested save spot is Google Drive, if you have it.

Overall, Mathies Notebook is a powerful tool for capturing thinking. It can be used quickly, without fuss, once you teach a workflow for it. This is especially true as equivalent sorts of tools are often parts of apps with different monetizing structures. Mathies is, and will remain, a free tool.

Choice may be key here. Some students simply don’t enjoy using technological tools. Paper can still be an option.

Writing about creativity, books, productivity, education, particularly mathematics, music, and whatever else “catches my mind”. ~Thinking about things~