Taking notes has always been the downfall of many of my students.  They can copy what is on the board, but sometimes it is just not organized or even legible.  Many students will just jot down the numbers, not writing down any part of the discussion or copying anything given during instruction.  The students that need it the most to utilize for review or reference are the students that do not how to effectively take notes.  These students tend to be unorganized, lose their notebooks, write in the science notebook, or just flat out do not take notes.  Good students generally have well-kept notebooks that are neatly organized and legible.  However, they are sometimes the students that do not even need the notes in the first place.

After pondering over the summer and doing a little research, reading blog after blog after blog, I finally came across what I believe is an idea that has saved several “mathematical lives” in my classroom.  This lifesaver is the interactive student notebook, or the ISN (is-nnnn) as we call it.  This book is an organized, teacher-created notebook that allows students to easily locate concepts and practice what is learned in class.  The premise is that all students will create this notebook and have it readily available for homework or review before a quiz or test.

An interactive notebook is based off of brain research that helps students to visualize and learn through an active process.  The right side of the notebook is for teacher created notes.  These notes can include a graphic organizer, pictures and tables, fill in the blank, and more.  The right side can contain interactive parts, such as foldables.  Foldables are my students’ favorites because they allow them to self-assess themselves.  For example, when discussing the three methods for solving a system of equations, we will fold a piece of paper in half and cut one side three times.  There will be three flaps that we will label with the different methods.  Once glued down, we then open the flaps to give examples and a short procedural outline.

Once the notes have been completed, the left side is utilized for practicing.  The left side is used because it allows for the students to actively interact with their notes.  They can refer back to the right side of the page while completing practice problems.  It is more difficult for a student to look to the opposite page when it is located on the right-hand side.  This encourages students to try by themselves, then refer to the notes they cannot complete with a resource.

Not only does the organization benefit the students, but it provides a map, or progression through the learning that has occurred during the year.  I have heard students in high school speak about their notebooks that they have kept over the years as a tool of reference.  Many blogs state that past students mention how they still have their ISN and continue to use it even in higher level courses.  It is another reference tool that can be personalized.  The student has a sense of ownership of it and is more likely to keep something that has been created as opposed to a notebook full of unorganized notes.

There are many things that I have found that are beneficial to both students and myself when utilizing the ISN.  First, I have become a more organized prepared teacher.  The ISN requires me to really think about the “big picture” of the learning that is occurring and what steps must be taken to get there.  As McTighe and Wiggins explore the backward design model and placed the focus on the big ideas, the ISN allows me to really focus on the backward design of the lesson or unit of study.  I am now more prepared for the students and have a complete understanding of the exact process of the lesson.

I am now more prepared for the students and have a complete understanding of the exact process of the lesson. Click To Tweet

I have also found a few things that make the interactive student notebook even better!  For one, it is now a permanent resource in my classroom for when students are absent.  As the class fills out their notebook, I also fill out a notebook.  This allows for students to look back at my notebook that has been created in the same fashion as the students’ notebooks.  It has made absences easier, as the students know where my notebook is and will copy the missing pages during study hall.

ISN’s are also a great resource because they give students another avenue to study.  Most students do not know how to study for math.  The ISN contains interactive parts that can be used to self-assess through foldables post-it note cover-ups.  In addition, my students always know that the ISN is the first place to look for help and answers to their questions.  It has eliminated the immediate, “I don’t know what to do,” questions.

The students that I have seen the largest impact of the ISN on is the unorganized student.  It has helped them to create visually appealing notes that they feel proud of and will use again.  My students are very good about creating their ISN, using colors when needed for visualization.  Many have personalized the cover and made it look like a journal.  Next year, I will be having the students use modge podge to create a meaningful cover for themselves.

However, there is one thing that I have learned from using the notebooks.  It is the fact that students need to be held accountable for them.  I have pondered various ideas, such as a quick grade that has no significance to their class grade.  However, I have decided that I will have a bin for each class next year to hold their books.  They will be allowed to check them out for the night, but not carry them from class to class.  This will eliminate the problem of the ISN becoming lost or stolen, a problem with any set of notes that is taken.

As with anything in education, things come and go.  The interactive notebook was created back in the 1970’s!  It is now making its way back through the help of many prominent math educators.  It not only helps the students that usually have well-organized notes, it helps all students that would normally not use their notes as a references or resource.  It has benefited the students that need to refer back the most.

The only problem that remains about next year’s classroom…who is going to purchase hundreds of glue sticks for me?  Maybe we should buy stock in Elmer’s!

interactive math notebooks

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