Monday, April 23, 2018

Can you sketchnote in math? Damn right you can!

One of the most common phrases of resistance to sketchnotes is "you can't sketchnote in math." Granted, sketchnotes fit ever so naturally into English Language Arts, Social Studies and Science, but this is exactly why they should be used more in math. Sketchnotes are a visual form of note taking. They are designed to make thinking visual. Math is traditionally taught in a straight forward, one-size fits all method. Reading Jo Boaler's book Mathematical Mindsets opened my eyes to beauty of math and the importance of making thinking visual. We do it the other subjects so why not math?

After months and months of trying to get into a math class to teach sketchnotes, I finally got a bite. The best part was that this teacher sought me out, not the other way around. After seeing how successful kids were sketchnoting in science, this teacher thought sketchnoting would be a great way to spiral review order of operations. 

The teacher wanted students to sketchnote the order of operations acronym G.E.M.S. (Grouping, Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Subtraction/Addition). In the demo session, the students and I brainstormed ways to symbolize each of the letters of the acronym. Some of their ideas were brilliant. A couple of students blurted out that this will help them remember and understand this so much better in the future. 

One my favorite student-generated symbols was the pirate/parrot symbol for exponents. The student above compared the base number to a pirate and the parrot to the exponent. This student, to symbolize multiplication, drew a Chromebook copying and pasting text.  For the "G" in G.E.M.S., grouping, other students compared it to dividing into teams before playing basketball at recess. Many used food examples such as pizza, pies and cake to symbolize division. 

In the end, it was a momentous day. I finally broke into a math class to teach sketchnotes. It can be done. Sketchnotes helped them personalize and take ownership of math rather than drill and kill. Students who normally dread math were engaged and empowered. 


  1. Awesome! I would love to hear more your experiences and find ways to use sketchnotes in Geometry

    1. It's all about synthesizing the content and making symbolic connections. Send me what you're working on and I can give you some ideas about how we can rock some sketchnotes.