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MTBoS Mission #4: Lab Notebooks For Math

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Finally had some time this week, and listened to the Global Math Department’s podcast on Interactive Notebooks, IN (oooh, lingo!) Megan Hayes-Golding, Nik Doran, James Cleveland, and Jonathan Claydon were on the panel in this podcast, and Jonathan later posted a link to his IN system here.

Some thoughts while listening:

  • Gets the kids to take notes of their own accord, sort of (but does model a way to keep a class organized)
  • Can be very structured (e.g., write this type of notes on this page, diff notes on other pages…) or not
  • Can be used as a store-all for assignments and quizzes etc. (or not)
  • Don’t have to check reams of homework pages (use spot checks or completion checks)
  • Grading for the course, at least for these folks, tends to be more based on participation (i.e., kids have to ask questions if stumped). Work doesn’t often need to go home. Tests count for a lot. Most check for completion (kids can complete stuff later, but must have initiative to show finished work)
  • Kids can refer back to old lessons because it’s in the notebook!
  • Taping in assignment prompts (or matching cards or…) works well
  • Can leave classroom messy with lots of tape, scissors, scraps
  • Will have to keep extra sheets available for kids (vertical files, etc.)
  • No more “I don’t have my notebook, paper, whatever”!
  • Kids can see all the stuff they’ve done over the year
  • Might be more effective with a short reflection on day’s lessons
  • SBG can be kept on same page as table of contents
  • Digital notebooks don’t work well for math (equations)


I chose this podcast (really, more of a recorded lecture/discussion) because I didn’t really know what the “interactive” part of the IN was about. I really like that the notebooks are a source for a whole year’s worth of work. It really is impressive to have that at their fingertips, especially with some reflection later on. It also made me think of a good lab notebook. This is kinda how I have my students run their lab notebooks. I even have a format for students who only need a lab credit but don’t want to actually work in the lab (some have some anxiety issues or sensory processing issues). Here’s my format:

For non-lab lab credit:

  1. Watch a video, read an article, otherwise consume some sort of science-related media that interested you.
  2. On a new page, write a proper citation for your source (MLA or APA or whatever format you want).
  3. Write a brief (1-2 paragraphs) summary of the story.
  4. Write your reaction to the story and at least 5 questions you have about it.
  5. Write an additional 5 questions or thoughts that would take the research/problem/discovery further or in another direction entirely.

Okay, my students don’t always reflect on the thing they’ve just read. But I have found this format pretty successful in at least getting them to try to extend a little bit. It’s also flexible for any topic or series, and in a pinch, I’ve even used it as a sub plan.

I’m not sure I’d use a single notebook for a chemistry course (and in the podcast, someone mentioned that a chemistry teacher at their school also used folders to keep other printed materials). It just sounds like too much micromanaging.

Someone in the podcast also mentioned that higher-level kids hate this format, so I wonder what you do with them to keep them not-irritated and busy in a good way. And how do lower-level kids do, or those with dyslexia or other impairments? How would you do inquiry-based stuff this way, if you’re supposed to create the structure for everything? For SBG, what do kids do to improve their scores (or maybe those scores are mostly test-based and not HW-based)? And how do you study for tests if the notebooks stay at school?


7 responses »

  1. I discovered INBs via this Global Math Dept post too! I LOVE them, and don’t know how I have taught for 14 years without them! They are a bit of work to get started, but so valuable for my students!

    • Neato… glad you’ve had such success with them. Was it hard / lots of work / new way of thinking on the teacher-side to get them going?

      • A lot of my stuff was usable in the notebooks, I just had to readjust the format of some of them. There are other things that are more challenging, such as determining what to put on the left hand side. Students are actually using it and referring back to their notes when working on papers or review, which I didn’t see students do before this notebook. They have resources to help themselves!

  2. My goal with notebooks was to raise the expectations for class time. You are going to listen to me lecture a bit here and there but most of the time YOU are doing work in THAT THING. Lower level students are very good at rising to the challenge because you’ve removed the lowest bar to entry: lack if supplies. Something about having this book in front of them compels even a kid who hates math to participate a little bit. Of course your biggest gains come from setting a safe environment for risk taking which a notebook can’t solve by itself.

    I use very little structure, so inquiry based items are pretty easy to do. Usually I just have them find a blank spot to note their observations to save for later. My SBG system is all test based. Retested are built in. If topics 1-4 are tested this week, next week will feature 1-6, the first four being assessed for a second time. The final grade is the best of the two attempts.

    Kids are free to take their notebooks home whenever they choose. Usually my tests are just reinforcements of class work (a way to offer formal feedback that I can’t do on their class work) so not a lot of studying is necessary. By testing them frequently the thought is they retain things better over time and need to study less.

    • Thanks for the quick reply, and for doing the podcast in the first place!

      I totally get the “I see a structure, so I must write stuff in it” thing. Heck, I do that too. It’s more of a personal problem of letting them write whatever they want, while making sure the big lesson for the day is somehow in there.

      I’m also trying to get into SBG (but I currently teach one-on-one, so it’s not working well right now).

  3. I feel like INBs might be good in my Algebra 2 classes – their notes can be a disastrous mess! I’m pretty sure my upper level kids would hate them, but I’ll have to check them out.


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