Interactive Notebooks

With a semester’s worth of practice, I’m ready to share my experiences with the Interactive Notebook in math and physics.

An Interactive Notebook (IN) is a bound notebook, typically a composition book or spiral notebook that a student uses for notes, practice, and reflections during a course.

The interactive-notebooks Wikispace is a great place to start.

Here are the rules I give the students:

  • The right pages are for input, left pages are for output. That means I’ll often give you notes on the right and you’ll practice or reflect on the left. [Teachers: Write lesson plans, including planned pages where everything goes.]
  • Number each page as you use it. Put a title and date on every page and enter the title on your Table of Contents. [Teachers: maintain your own classroom copy of the book. Students love to look at your example, especially when they’ve been absent. To keep ’em honest, I like to NOT answer the problems.]
  • Never go on to the next page unless directed by your teacher. If you need more space, glue loose leaf paper to the bottom of the page and fold it up. [Teachers: keep loose-leaf paper available for students. Try to anticipate when a problem set will be too long for the space you’ve allotted.]
  • Use pencil and colored pencil only in the IN because marker and highlighter both bleed through the page. [Teachers: keep colored pencils available in the classroom for use on a daily basis.]
  • Use tape or gluestick only because staples add unnecessary bulk and sometimes rip the pages. [Teachers: again, keep these available for regular use.]

I like to keep my extra copies in this wall organizer. The sticky notes and a marker live near the organizer and I often ask a student to keep it organized. (In my picture, you see orange for math and green for physics.)

From School Stuff

I attach handouts into the IN several different ways. Here’s the easiest: se a gluestick to paste the back of the handout into the notebook, sideways. Super-duper cool tip: use the “print 2 pages on 1” option of your printer to get stuff half-size — it fits on a IN page with no folding.

From School Stuff

For the warmup or bellringer activity, sometimes I provide kids with the problem on a slip of paper, to be pasted in. You can get a bunch of problems on one page this way.

We do a reasonable number of foldables in my class. They can also be placed in the IN several ways. One is with the pocket. I like to ask kids write a reflection or conclusion on the bottom few lines, below the pocket. The pocket is also a great place to store lab reports, graphs, or other work that was done outside the notebook.

From Phone uploads

A cutsey pocket can be made of construction paper and stapled in the back cover (glue would be too fragile). Here’s mine:

From School Stuff

I don’t think much of what I do in the classroom could be described as artsy-craftsy. Ok, probably nothing is artsy-craftsy. That purple pocket above is about as cutsey as I’ve ever done.

Aside from being crafty (and therefore appealing to that type of student), the IN helps everyone stay organized. We don’t lose assignments, forget to bring the vocabulary flash cards to class, or need a sheet of paper (that will inevitably get lost).

In part 2, I’ll talk about how I manage grading work if the kids have all their papers with them all the time.

Ramadan Mubarak!

A highlight of my job at Clarkston High (probably the most diverse high school in the US), is sponsoring the Muslim Student Association. The club holds weekly meetings in my room and I have a blast learning from the club’s many members. In return for all I get from the kids, I take it as my responsibility to educate my colleagues about the intersections between public education and Muslim students. Each year, I write a Ramadan letter to my faculty, explaining a little about the holiday and how to handle the fact that 30% of our student body is fasting. Here is this year’s letter:

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is happening right now through August 31. To help you through the month when Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, I’ve put together a RamaFAQ.

1. What is Ramadan? The holiday celebrates Islam’s greatest prophet, Mohammed, receiving Allah’s revelation for humankind. To observe, students may be fasting from sun-up to sun-down. That includes no drinking water. As with any religious observance, not all Muslim students will participate in fasting. Some of our younger students may have trouble concentrating. I recommend giving a restroom pass so they can refocus.

2. When is Ramadan? Because the Muslim calendar is lunar, Ramadan moves around the year. It could be any time. This year, it’s August 1-31. At the end of Ramadan is a holiday called Eid. Many of our Muslim students will be out of school to celebrate for up to 3 days.

3. How do I wish a kid Happy Ramadan? You could say “Happy Ramadan”. If you want to make a kid smile, greet him or her with “Ramadan Mubarak” (Ramadan’s blessings on you) or “Ramadan Kareem” (um, I’m not sure).

4. Where can I read a little more about this holiday? This Washington Post article is fun and educational.

Free stuff and laminators? I am a real teacher now

Jackpot! Summer is half over for me[1], so naturally it’s time to start working on classroom stuff.

Today, I visited teacher heaven — or, as it’s properly known, the Jim Cherry Teacher Center. Employees of my school system get a $3 credit every visit. And with prices like poster board for $0.15 or laminating for $0.25/ft, you get a lot for your money. Private school teachers are welcome, too! Not in the metro Atlanta area? Chances are really good your public school system offers something similar.

Lookit what I have access to:

  • laminators
  • poster printer
  • sample instructional games
  • letter/die cutters
  • ribbon maker
  • color copier
  • button makers
  • awards embossers
  • opaque projectors
  • book binders
  • art waxer

Like me, do you have no idea what an art waxer is? To the Google Machines! An outdated post on a mailing list tells me it’s an outdated piece of equipment with a nifty new use: sticky wax on the back of your posters will stick to your concrete block walls. Dude! Nothing sticks to my walls.

Even though I’ve completed seven years of teaching, I didn’t feel like I’d earned my chops until operating a laminating machine today. Next time I go out there, it’s the die cutters[2].

[1] It’s true — planning starts August 1 down here in the Dirty South
[2] these

Connecting with My Kids

I regularly drive kids home from tutoring after school and they’re usually surprised to hear my radio tuned to a pop or hip hop station. Two years ago, I couldn’t have named a single song by Jay Z, Rihanna, or TI. Now, I can spit some lyrics* to “Empire State of Mind”, “Rude Boy”, and “Dead and Gone”. Music is probably my favorite way to connect with my ninth graders. (Recite the hook to a current hit and the kids will be eating out of your hand the rest of the lesson — I dare you to try it.)

Intentionally connecting with my kids seems like an obvious thing to do. I was surprised recently to hear from a group of teachers who “never thought of that”. I’m going to introduce them to the idea through some music they only think they know. Take a listen to these seemingly-familiar songs (close your eyes as you click so you don’t ruin the surprise by seeing the answer right away):

Lyric #1: “it’s a hard knock life for me”

Lyric #2: “I’ve had the time of my life”

Lyric #3: “what is love?”

My way is music. How do you connect in meaningful ways with your kids?

Where I work, one colleague makes it a point to attend athletic events all year long. Another acts as mentor to a growing crowd of young women. I think that no matter what you choose, it has to be authentic.

She said in a stage whisper: “Darn these presentations I sign up to give, making me think philosophically.”

* Did I really just use the phrase “spit some lyrics”?

The Coolest Trick I Learned This Week

(I’m still writing about the really amazing treasure hunt we had last week. In the meantime, check out this folding trick I learned from some kids today.)

I needed my kids to make a booklet for all the properties of special quadrilaterals we’ve learned recently. One of my students showed me a paper-folding trick he learned that works perfectly for our needs.

Apparently, there is a whole category of this stuff, called Foldables, that I was busy scoffing at during grad school. Do you have any cool folding tricks that kids like?

Step 1: Stack paper in a staggered pattern.
The Coolest Trick I Learned This Week
Step 2: Fold the paper from the side opposite the stagger.
Coolest Trick, pt 2 of 3
Step 3: Crease and staple.
Coolest Trick, pt. 3 of 3

Thanks to my student Sara who texted me tonight asking how to make the fold. I sent her these images by way of explanation. Before you (or she) flip out over the matches, all I can tell you is that it’s Hanukkah at my house.

Why the booklet? Well, they were creating the…

Properties of Quadrilaterals Mini-Project

The booklet will hold problems the students have created to illustrate the properties of special quadrilaterals. For example, we teach that a parallelogram’s diagonals bisect each other. The students may create a problem that shows diagonal AC has midpoint M. AM = 2x and MC = 3x – 4. They set ’em equal and then solve for x.

I’m making the kids create the problems, since we’ve solved about a million of them in the past few days. Ms. Golding is  tired of creating algebraic expressions.

Each page of the booklet holds problems for each quadrilateral.

Someone observed my class today and remarked that he liked the task because it pushed the kids higher up Bloom’s. Eh, I was just looking for a way out of the algebraic-expression-invention game.

Happy folding!

Georgia Performance Standard (GPS) Alignment: MM1G3d, (the student will) Understand, use, and prove properties of and relationships among special quadrilaterals: parallelogram, rectangle, rhombus, square, trapezoid, and kite.

How do you write high school syllabi?

The beginning of every semester finds me in a quandry: how detailed should my syllabi be? How detailed are your syllabi?

Here’s the geometry syllabus I just finished.

The syllabus is way more detailed than any I’ve ever written. What drove the uber-detailed syllabus? One of my weaknesses has always been long-range planning, so I’m taking the opportunity to plan the entire semester at once with this class. I’ve chosen home study assignments, created a portfolio project that spans the semester, and scheduled assessments.

Syllabus highlights:

  • Assessments on average every other week (8 total)
  • Semester-long portfolio project to be turned in at exam time (counts as an additional assessment)
  • Weekly home study assignments (approx. 10 problems per week)

The possible benefits include time saved planning during the semester and students will know what’s coming along. I think the risk is that the course might move along too rigidly to allow for student differences or truly experiential learning.

I want to see your syllabi! What do you like about your syllabi? What do you wish you could change?

Here Comes Fall Semester!

Last week, Dana shared with readers her fall preview — yes, the summer’s over, the cheap crayons and notebook paper are looking picked-over at the store, and the tax free holiday is behind us. Time for my Fall Preview, too.

Today’s the first day of pre-planning for teachers at my school. (Aside: My mother, also a teacher, used to wonder how anyone can pre-plan — shouldn’t we just call it planning?) My schedule, ecclectic as ever, sees me moving more toward the math and science teacher role and away from computer teaching. Case in point: this year, I spend three hours per day teaching outside the computer lab. Here’s a look at my schedule:

  • Geometry: Of all the maths out there, geometry has a special place in my heart. I hope it sparks with my class, as well. We’re going to have fun with this class and will be blogging about it over at Axiomatics.
  • Trigonometry & Precalculus: This should be interesting — in a good way! I wasn’t expecting to teach this class but was kindly offered it last week. I have a good textbook, a fairly small class (6 to 8 students), and a few ideas on this junior/senior level math course.
  • Physics: I can’t wait to start teaching the superhero physics that I’ve been looking forward to all summer! I’ll also be restarting the Chrysalis Physics Blog after a 1-year hiatus during which I didn’t teach physics.
  • Computer Science: I’ll primarily be teaching Python programming because it’s open source, free, has been called “friendly” and easy to learn, and integrates well with the web.
  • Publishing: This class publishes the school’s yearbook. In addition, interested students create a book of poetry and a school newspaper. If memory serves, this is my 3rd year teaching this course, which is my longest-running class.

Georgia State

I completed my second of (hopefully!) 4 semesters a few days before reporting back to work. The program is crazy-intense but I loved most moments of the summer semester. This fall, I have 4 classes: two on teaching math, one on the psychology of learners, and a statistics class.

My teammate in the program teaches in Newton County. The two of us were paired because we’re both established teachers. While many of our cohort-mates gear up for a 6-week student teaching experience this fall, Adrienne and I are planning lessons we’ll teach in our own classrooms. Given that the state offers a 5 year non-renewable certificate, my advice to aspiring teachers is to get a job and start a Masters program after a year of teaching. Not only will you get paid while student teaching but the in-the-trenches experience makes the program incredibly valuable.

Reflections: My Intense Grad Program

This week is the end of my second very intense week of grad school at Georgia State. I’m in a teacher certification program called TEEMS that includes a Masters degree (an MAT) as well. While I also took classes in the spring, it wasn’t officially a part of the program nor was it as intense.

I’ve never worked so much at school in my life!

In the picture at right is Marsha McCrary-Barron, a PhD student at Georgia State. She’s teaching 2 classes (along with our advisor, Dr. Junor-Clark) to my cohort. Marsha’s illustrating Algebra Tiles in the photo.Polynomials w/Algebra Tiles

One class has exposed me to the Reflective Teaching Model (RTM)1. The RTM is based on constructivism and megacognition. The RTM builds trust, ownership, and cohesion among those involved, includes ample reflecting, and applies heuristic teaching (“as opposed to algorithmically…there is no script…the lesson plan becomes a set of strategies.”).

Getting students to think about their thinking (the fancy word is apparently “metacognition”) should help them understand better. Check out this next bit:

Put ’em in Pairs and Try This

The Thinker/Doer model2 is an interesting part of the RTM to apply with students. The first role is Thinker, a facilitator. The Thinker watches the Doer solve a problem. It’s the Thinker’s job to ask questions rather than give direct instruction. The Doer must apply metacognition while solving the problem. Thinker/Doer not only helps build a “mental model of the teachers’ role when students are solving problems” but also builds teachers’ metacognitive ability (Hart 211). The Thinker has 4 standard questions:

  1. Do you think you understand the problem?
  2. Do you think this problem is hard or easy?
  3. What strategies do you think you will use?
  4. How do you think you will do? Why?

Thinker/Doer is very interesting to watch in action. I am eager to adapt it to my own classroom use!

Problem Solving Techniques?

Comment please! I’d like to know if there are any tips or methods you can share to sharpen students’ problem solving skills. In particular, stuff that applies in a math classroom.

1 Hart, L. C., Najee-ullah, D., & Schultz, K. (2004). The reflective teaching model: A professional development model for in-service mathematics teachers. In R. N. P. Rubenstein & G. W. Bright (Eds.), Perspectives on the teaching of mathematics (pp. 207–218). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

2 Whimbley, Arthur, and Jack Lochead. Problem Solving and Comprehension, 4th ed. Philadelphia: Franklin Institute Press, 1986.

The Kids are Talking About You

A) I haven’t blogged in over three weeks. B) I miss the blog-reading-and-writing cycle. C) My Masters program at Georgia State got in the way. Because of A, B, and C, I decided to share this story.

The Kids are Talking About You. Are You?

[The following story is something I thought long about before posting. I share it because it was so meaningful to me.]

A very powerful experience happened recently between a middle school student and me.

While supervising another teacher’s PE class, one student asked to speak with me privately about something other students were saying. He wanted to know if it was true or not because he likes me as a teacher. I knew just where this was going. And a lump was forming at the back of my throat.

Then he said it: “the other kids are saying you’re a L-E-Z-B-O. Is it true?”

This is always the moment that makes me profoundly nervous but not for the reason some might think. I’ve always been out at work. Being out to the administration and (as appropriate) to students was a condition I put on taking the job. With the support of my administration, I’ve even been lucky enough to work directly with several gay high school students in the past few years.

But it rarely comes up with the younger students at my school. And when it does, I fear backlash from parents, fear saying the wrong thing, fear being a bad role model.

So I swallowed the lump in my throat and confirmed that I am, in fact, a lesbian. He said that he “didn’t think I would do that,” at which point he fell all over his words and apologized for saying the wrong thing. I was saddened by his words — and that he felt the need to take them back.

I went into teaching for so many reasons, but providing a positive role model of the GLBT communities to students was a huge motivator. All that is wonderful about my being gay was knocked down a rung when this kid said he didn’t think I “would do that”.

That. My identity is reduced to “that” in this kid’s eyes. Clearly he thinks being a L-E-Z-B-O is gross. As if I just plucked some ABC gum off a desk and started chewing it — “ewww, I can’t believe you did that.”

When the student said he was surprised, I took the chance to tell him that gay people don’t look or act a certain way. That you can’t tell by looking at someone. The conversation wound down and he walked off.

I couldn’t help but feel, though, that if only I were better at this I could have said something more meaningful to this kid. Words don’t come easily to me (if only you knew how many edits this short blog took me!) nor do most interpersonal skills.

My doubts aside, I’m pretty proud of the conversation. I know I’m making a difference. And that’s pretty cool.


I’m taking a history of education course (EPSF 7120) and will be presenting a related topic: GLBT Issues in Schools. It’s nerve-wracking to get up in front of this group and talk about gay folk in the schools — mostly because I’ll be coming out to them — but my conversation above, motivates me to share. Wish me luck!

Another Way of Looking at It

Different ways I think about my blog.

1) Left-Directed (logical, analytical)
Venn Diagram intersection of tech and teaching

Read enough indexed, and you too will start making Venn Diagrams to visualize any situation.

2) R-Directed (random, creative)

Intersection of Technology and Teaching Street Signs

The above is a modified image from Street Sign Generator.

I think that teachers need a natural ability to see things from different perspectives. It helps us reach students who learn differently from us. This is on my mind because I spent last week teaching stacked bar charts to a room of mostly R-Directed middle schoolers. I think they learned a bunch, but while I love a great graph, I’m not sure they do (yet!).

Do you think interpreting data on a graph is a left-brained task?

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