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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?


Hypothetical Water Issues

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There’s a issue of making curriculum, especially in science and math classes, relevant to students. There’s also the cross-discipline thing that’s so popular right now (which shouldn’t have to be a thing, but it is). But how to include, say, algebra problems in history class or history problems in algebra class, without being too token-ish about it?

Maybe you don’t.

Make it up instead. This is the whole premise behind a lot of Dan Meyer‘s math and teaching blog, especially his “What Can You Do With This?” series. How do you get students to “buy into” the lesson, rather than just complete the problems? Vi Hart is kind of this idea in practice, noticing patterns and expounding on them.

What can I do with something ubiquitous, like water?

Dr. Tyson says that there are more molecules in a cup of water than cups of water in the Earth’s oceans. Oh yes, the calculations work out (and are a good conversion problem for chemistry students). But that lasts about… 15-20 minutes at most. And while an amazingly cool factoid, isn’t very tangible (and therefore, not very memorable) to most people.

NBC’s coverage of the summer Olympics has a piece on how competitive swimming pools are engineered. Also cool. Not super science-heavy, but things I hadn’t thought about before, especially in silencing waves to promote speed. What other sports need information on waves? How do noise-canceling headphones work? Could you put wave-canceling things on boats to make for faster sailing? (P.S., the segment on para-Olympic engineering is fascinating!)

Maybe it doesn’t have to be entirely realistic. Bring out the curiosity. xkcd‘s what-if on making a rainstorm into a single drop of water.

Hurricanes are gigantic forces of nature, but much of how they move depends on physics of large objects, especially momentum and inertia. So, mass is a big question. Just how much does a hurricane weigh?, via Robert Krulwich on NPR.

Taking Movies at Face Value

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Why does science always have to be so serious?

Oh wait, it doesn’t! You could even enjoy it! So says Dr. Tyson on NPR, as he goes through the summer’s blockbusters.

The Intuitor Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics page has always been, at least in title, a little militant for me. Granted, they do not rate the movies for acting or storyline, but sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and enjoy the ride and ignore the stuff claiming to be science or engineering feats. That being said, I had to be restrained when in G.I.Joe, when a giant ice-base is blown to pieces and sunk… I mean, sinking ice! Aaaaaugh!

The reason it bothers me isn’t that it’s weird or too far over the top. The rest of the movie involves, among other things, super-duper military groups, mechanized suits of armor to enhance soldiers’ skills, all kinds of technological gadgets and gear, and so on. What bothers me is that it’s just wrong. Ice doesn’t sink on this planet, at least, not in the ocean. It just doesn’t. Density will pwn you every time.

If you’re going for scientific accuracy (or plausibility), go for it, but don’t leave out the details. Otherwise, Dr. Tyson will go after your slackness!