I heard somewhere that for most people, the person they marry was their third serious relationship. I don’t know whether this is true, it is just another one of those strange things upon which someone decided to collect statistics. I think the rationale is that you make your mistakes in the first two relationships and have finally figured out who you are and what you want by the third one. I can’t say much about whether this holds true with regard to most people’s marriages, but it bears the ring of truth when I think about student notebooks in my math class. Third time was definitely the charm.
When I first started teaching, I had students use a spiral notebook. I envisioned students doing their classwork in the spiral notebook and then doing their homework on loose leaf paper. I liked the fact that a spiral notebook was fairly inexpensive and small enough not to take up too much room in a backpack. I quickly discovered that it presented a few drawbacks, though. There was no good place for students to put handouts or returned work, so they inevitably ended up stuffed in the trash or wadded up into the black hole of their backpack never to be found again. Furthermore, instead of using loose leaf paper, students inevitably gave in to the temptation to rip sheets out of their spirals, leaving a trail of paper shreds all over the floor. I did not love the result so that was the end of spiral notebooks for me.
With the flaws of the spiral notebook foremost in my mind, I moved on to three ring binders. Handouts could be hole-punched and added to the classwork. Dividers could be added to keep everything organized. There would be no more little paper shreds from spiral notebooks strewn on the floor. It seemed like the perfect solution. Alas, it was not long before dissatisfaction reared its ugly head. The binders were big and bulky. They took up a lot of space in a backpack and added a lot of weight that was carted around endlessly. (For some reason that is not clear to me, most middle school students carry everything around in their backpacks all the time. They have lockers, but they don’t seem to use them.) Furthermore, my vision of neatly organized binders divided into sections did not come to fruition for a lot of students. Things were put randomly into the binders in a mad rush. When it was time to find homework to be checked, the location was a mystery. The student would swear that he or she did it and put it into the binder but simply could not find it. Once again, it was clear that this was not for me.
Then, I discovered interactive notebooks. They were as close to perfect as I was going to ever get. They are small and lightweight. They are bound so things don’t get lost. There is a structure that keeps things organized. They were easy for me to check and easy for my students to use as a resource. I had found my match.
I have students use quad-rule composition books for their interactive notebooks. They are bound so there are no loose pages (or pages accidentally torn out like they had with spiral notebooks). Each page is graph paper, so there is no search for it when we need it. I also find that the graph paper helps students align numbers more readily (e.g., when doing long division), is useful when they need to make models to solve a problem, and is essential when they need to make graphs. The composition book is also fairly light and compact which is really nice since most of my students seem to carry their lives around in their backpacks. Over the course of a year, most of my students use four quad-rule composition books.
The Rubric (Inside Front Cover)
I have student place the rubric for the notebook on the inside front cover for easy reference. I grade student notebooks periodically. This helps to ensure that they keep them. Eventually, students realize that the notebook is a resource but that realization does not happen at the start of middle school for most of them. The occasional notebook check goes a long way. I tell my students that this is basically a free 16 points if they just follow the rubric. Those 16 points can help to cushion things a little if they make a careless mistake on a quiz or a test.
I give forewarning for the early notebook checks. I tell them when the check will happen and what specifically I will be checking. As the year progresses, I stop announcing when the notebook check will be. I print a small version of the rubric on envelop labels (the categories and the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4). I circle the values for each category and then place the adhesive label in the notebook wherever I checked it. My goal here is to give feedback but to do so in a way that is reasonable for me as a teacher. I want to be able to do the notebook check in a fairly short amount of time in class because students need to take the notebook home and I need to spend most of my time with them teaching (not checking notebooks). You can download the Interactive Math Notebook Rubric by clicking on the text.
The Title Page (Page 1)
The first page of the notebook is the Title Page. Students tape it into the notebook. It’s main function is to ensure that the student’s name is in the notebook so that it can be returned to them when they inevitably leave it behind in one of their classes.
When students tape the title page into the notebook, I also have them number the pages in the composition book. The pages should be numbered on the top outside corners of the pages. The page numbering is important for the table of contents and finding things within the notebook.
This is also where students can tape in the directions for using LearnZillion. LearnZillion has video lessons that students can use. I have links to the videos on my school website. I provide these so that students who were absent during class have a means for accessing the concepts they missed in class. These video lessons can also be helpful when a student is studying for a quiz or a test.
Finally, I have students write their calculator number on this page. I have a class set of calculators that students can use in class. They each are assigned a specific calculator (this helps me to keep everyone accountable for returning the calculators).
The Directions For the Notebook (Page 2)
I provide a basic set of directions on the notebook set-up and use so that students can refer back to them as needed. These directions are taped on page 2.
The Table of Contents (Pages 3-5)
The Table of Contents are the next three pages (pages 3-5). Each day, students are to record the topic covered and page numbers used in the table of contents. This provides an easy way for them to go back and revisit work on a specific topic.
When students set up the notebook, they number each page in the notebook on the upper outside corner of the page.
You can download the Math Interactive Notebook set up pages and table of contents by clicking on the text.
The Standards of Mathematical Practice (Pages 6-9)
The Standards of Mathematical Practice have been translated into kid-friendly language. These standards are at the heart of all mathematics. I want students to have them readily available as a reminder of what it is to do mathematics. The math practice standards are taped into the next four pages of the notebook.
I don’t remember where I got these pages. I found another set of kid-friendly math practice standards here that you can download.
The Classwork Pages
Each day, students use at least two pages of their notebook for the work done in class. The first of the two pages is for the Math Minute, the In, and the Flashback. The page is divided in half horizontally. The top half has a narrow section on one side for the Math Minute. The Math Minute is a 1-2 minute task that students do upon entry into the class. It might be a quick skill practice. It might be an entry card. It might be a vocabulary foldable. The larger section on the top half of the page is for the In. The In is a slightly longer entry activity. It might be a vocabulary foldable, a longer entry card, or a task to introduce the day’s lesson (the Launch in a CMP lesson). The bottom section of the page is for the Flashback. The Flashback is a review activity or task during the last 5-10 minutes of class. It is often differentiated instruction. It might include playing a game to practice a skill, completing an exit card, or some other type of review activity. Students are supposed to set up this page for the next day as the final homework task.
The second classwork page is for the lesson. In a CMP lesson, this would be where students complete the lab. On days when students take notes (which happens every once in a while), this would be where they take the notes and do the classwork following the notes. I always have students set this page up as Cornell Notes. They use the larger right side of the page for completing the lab or doing the classwork. If they have any labsheets for the day, they tape the labsheet into the notebook on the classwork page(s). (That is what the white paper in the photo is.) They leave a column on the left side of the page to record the main ideas. They can complete the main ideas column during class or as part of their homework. It should just be done within 24 hours of the lesson. Early in the year, we come up with the main ideas together. Over time, I use a gradual release strategy in which students eventually must do the main ideas independently. At the close of each lesson, we do a summary. This is a chance to bring together the important ideas from the lesson and make sure that everyone walks away from the lesson with the big idea. I try really hard to let students think for themselves and build a solid understanding but I always have a summary to bring things together at the end of the lesson.
The Homework Pages
On the pages immediately following the classwork, students do their daily homework problems. If it is a review day and the homework is a handout, students tape the handout into the notebook on these pages. If it is ACE problems, they do the work on the page itself.
The Inside Back Cover
Students tape the PARCC reference sheet on the inside back cover of their composition book. You can download the PARCC reference sheets for all of middle school here.