Every student has pencil & paper every day

made4math_smallTired of taking up a left shoe in exchange for a pencil [1]? Or attaching various non-pencil accessories to your pencils [2] so they don’t walk out on you? If you have kids unprepared for class on a regular AND you don’t like methods you’ve already tried, I have a system that worked for me.

First, a description of the environment: a majority of my students regularly entered class empty-handed.

Ingredients: gallon size zipper bags, composition books, pencils, storage crates.


Gallon size zipper seal bags. I bought the “storage” rather than “freezer” bags, they’re cheaper. Yeah, they’re less durable, but I found them ok for a semester. Composition books. Found notebooks for $0.50 at back-to-school sales then resold them to students at cost. Benefit: everyone has the notebook on the first day. Even if you wind up paying for these out of pocket, it’s worth it: $0.50 for a whole semester of paper you NEVER have to provide.

My students kept their interactive notebooks in a gallon-size resealable storage bag along with a few other supplies. Because these kids have no problem walking into class empty-handed, I decided to store all they needed for class in the room. No one took anything home, or even to their lockers [3]. Ok, so we took care of paper above. How about pencil? Keep reading, dear friends.


At the beginning of each month, I gave each student two #2 pencils (purchased in massive quantities at back to school sales). At the end of each class, the bags got closed up and stored in one of these guys staged around the room.

Each crate could hold about half of a class’ bags. I rounded up (or is it down?) and bought three crates per class, spread out all over my room. Students kept their bags in whichever of the three crates for their class. I spread the crates out to avoid traffic jams at the beginning and end of class. This worked well.

How do you make sure students are prepared for class daily?

[1] There seems to be a lot of precedent for the shoe-for-pencil exchange. I never liked it because, hello, puberty –> stinky feet.

[2] Though I do love the idea and not just because the creator is my very own roommate at #TMC13.

[3] That’s a lie. In practice, some more responsible students often took their materials out of class to do homework or to study. The default remained “keep your materials in class”.

Interactive Notebooks: Where Should You Put HW?

tl;dr: Let’s put our minds together and brainstorm some math-specific uses for the left side of an Interactive Notebook.

The Interactive Notebook is based on brain research. One key element of the IN is the left/right page dichotomy. The right page is for input and the left is for output. Often, that translates to notes on the right and…something on the left.

In my experience, left pages are much easier to do in science, social studies, and language arts. Those teachers get to give assignments like “write a poem about President Grover Cleveland’s time in office” and “create a chapter test with 10 matching questions”. When doing math Interactive Notebooks, I had 4 go-to left page assignments:

  • Highlight meaningfully selected classwork or homework problems. Say we did 10 problems during class on factoring and solving quadratic equations. I’d ask students to divide the page into quarters and choose 4 problems that are distinct in some meaningful way. Students had to write why they chose the problems they did. (Side note: I don’t think the notebook needs every single problem in it that kids solve. They’ll never refer to them again. But how do you manage doing more problems? I’ve seen teachers have a homework folder — the $0.19 ones from the office supply store — that goes home nightly.)
  • Create a graphic organizer or mind map of the current studies.
  • Create a foldable to illustrate a procedure, an example problem, or whatever else you might use a foldable for.
  • Put the daily warmup problem(s) on the LHP (this was probably my favorite use).

My colleague who teaches chemistry suggested having the students use Bloom’s Question Starters to create questions they circle back and answer later. I think there’s a lot of power in this approach. Someone try it in math and let us know how it goes, ok? (I’ll be teaching physics this year, else I would.)

I don’t have the answers here. There’s not enough left page room to do it all. Y’all have asked great questions on Twitter recently about homework, classwork, and the left hand page. Let’s put our minds together and brainstorm some math-specific uses for the left side of an Interactive Notebook. Leave ’em in the comments.

My #Made4Math 4: Turning School Supplies into Art

If you’re a die-hard fan of the glue gun or taping your decorations to the classroom walls, please just bear with me on my motivation.

Check it:

Know what that is in the picture frame? (I mean besides the greatest Amazon princess ever) It’s a paper folder from WalMart ($1) inside a cheapo picture frame (maybe $3), hung up on a magnet thing I rigged up.

I abhor the glue gun as a tacky-but-effective way to get your stuff up on the wall. When I saw these DC Comics folders at WalMart I knew I wanted them to grace my walls but a glue gun would ruin the folders. But picture frames are almost impossible to use in public schools where the cinderblock wall rules the day. My room had this ugly metal ductwork running up one wall so I decided to make the most of it.

The rig (cause I already owned the magnet and needed a way to hang the frame on a piece of A/C ductwork):

The whole effect:

My #Made4Math 2: Student Center

Last week’s #Made4Math entries were great fun to read. I love how all us teachers get so excited about the new school year during the summer and start acting like little kids. An aside: many of us seem to also harbor some kind of office supply addiction.

This week, I recreated one of my favorite items from the school year: my Student Center. This idea came from my dear friend and colleague, Joie Bullock.

Why you need a Student Center: 50 times each class, “Can I have a piece of tape? Can I use your stapler? Can I? Can I?” You stop what you’re doing, rummage through your desk, and hand it to the kid. OR, you actually keep this stuff out for kids but it’s always messy and out of supplies.

The Student Center is as much an organization scheme as it is a spot to keep office supplies out for kids.

My recreated Student Center. Not all items are pictured and most are my at-home versions of tools. From School Stuff

What’s typically available in my Student Center:

  • tape dispensers (the big, heavy ones are less likely to walk away)
  • scissors (2 pair of big ones you’d actually choose to use & a class set of little ones I bought for cheap)
  • stapler & staple remover (love my red Swingline!)
  • paper clips & binder clips
  • sticky note pads in an assortment of colors
  • rubber bands
  • notebook paper or scrap printer paper

I decided against putting out pencils & the cap erasers I keep around because in my old classroom, they’d all disappear during the first block of classes.

You’ll want one Student Center for every 15 kids in class, give or take.

Want to see more creative classrooms from high school math teachers? Peep the latest #Made4Math tweets and this week’s curated entries.

Interactive Notebook Questions

Thanks to @druinok for the shoutout and motivation to get going on this.

What questions do you have about using interactive notebooks (IN) in the math (or science) classroom? I’ll be presenting at Twitter Math Camp in July, so your questions will really help improve that presentation. And of course you know I’ll be publishing the results here.

–> Submit & vote on interactive notebook questions you have <–

Modifying the Interactive Notebook from a science to math tool took some doing. There are definitely different concerns — for example, left page reflection is a different animal in mathematics. (Or maybe it isn’t and I’m really missing the point…)

Here’s one really cool page my kids and I made this year in our INs. It’s a foldable glued into the interactive notebook.

Interactive Notebook Foldable

Weird little side note: You may have seen me asking a lot about Evernote on twitter recently.

(you see, like that one)

My goal is to figure out a way cool way to integrate all the awesomeness about the web (linking, video, lolcats) and all the awesomeness of interactive notebooks and smoosh them together. Evernote may be the tool for that job.

Truth is, I’m not convinced online notebooks is the right way to go…that is, fully ditching the paper. So, I’ll be digging into it over the next few weeks to see what I can do with Evernote and interactive notebooks. Meantime, let’s continue to talk about the paper variety, mmmkay?

Didja submit your questions for the interactive notebooks yet? They’re not gonna submit themselves, so get to it:

–> Submit & vote on interactive notebook questions you have <–

I Should Be Studying

Before starting to teach, I was a student for the usual amount of time. And I’m not going to lie, I was never a great student. Now that I’ve been teaching for 4 years, I’m back in school for a Masters and certification. And I’m still not a great student. It all boils down to one weakness — poor study skills.

Except for a brief time in engineering school, I just never needed ’em.

Here I am now, experiencing my graduate program as if I were one of my own students, sitting in my classroom. I’m struggling with the material and I know that regular studying would improve my understanding.

That’s why study skills is (are?) at the top of my list.

How can I instill strong study skills in the students I teach? Especially given it’s a particular area of weakness for me. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Have high expectations — the students will work to rise to them.  But how do I walk that fine line between frustrating the students and giving them a challenge just hard enough?
  • Assign work that’s intriguing. Last week, I was asked to solve a version of the Cordial Dinner Party problem (restated in venture capitalist terms here). It hooked me and I spent a long time working it out.
  • Be clear and specific about what’s on the test. Knowing what to study helps me split the work into chunks, so that studying doesn’t seem so intimidating. I find that I won’t get started if the mass of work is too large.
  • Provide review time in class.

Can you help me add to my list?

Disclaimer: This post written while I was supposed to be studying for a math test. The problem pictured is a small part of the material I’m working on.