Interactive Math Notebooks in the Secondary Classroom
Interactive Math Notebooks
Beginning to use interactive math notebooks in a secondary math classroom is difficult. There are a lot of concepts that need to be taught and adding additional tasks sometimes seems impossible. But, if you incorporate interactive notebooks into the daily routine, they can start to become an integral part of instruction and student reflection.
I like to use interactive notebooks for three key portions of the learning processes: note-taking, reflection, and review. I have provided an overview here because I have seen great success with using each of these three components. Students essentially “build their own math textbook” by using these components, which leads to higher levels of engagement and understanding.
Why Use Interactive/Guided Notes?
Using guided notes in the math classroom serves two purposes. They help students to stay focused on the topics that are being covered and they help teachers to explain information in a very organized and structured way.
I used to let my students take their own notes. I figured that they were big kids and that they should be able to take down key ideas efficiently. Well, I quickly found out that taking notes in the math classroom was a very difficult task for them. My high schoolers needed help picking out important information. Little by little I started putting together more structured notes. When I began introducing context using scaffolded note templates, student understanding/retention of information began to increase. The kids began to focus more and perform better on assignments. It was a ton of work, but the results were worth the effort.
Eventually, the scaffolded notes made it easier to teach the content because they kept me focused. When you teach the same prep over and over again, it is easy to forget what nuances you have remembered to mention from class to class. In addition to keeping me focused, they help me to pace my lectures at a more comfortable speed for my students. Using the notes helped me to realize that I was talking too fast and pausing too little when introducing content. We have a detailed how-to guide for creating your own guided math notes if you’d like more support.
Benefits of Using Scaffolded Notes:
Years of trial and error have led me to come to the following conclusions about using scaffolded notes in the secondary classroom:
- the quality and accuracy of notes improves if the students can use teacher provided note-sheets to guide them through introduction to new topics,
- student learning and achievement improve when using scaffolded notes because the material being presented is easier to understand, and
- classroom discourse improves when scaffolded notes are introduced because students ask more questions about things that they do not understand.
There are a lot of things to keep in mind when using scaffolded notes in the math classroom. They are amazingly helpful to the kids when used regularly.
Why Use Interactive Notebook Activities (Foldable Reflections)?
Students do not retain new information after they leave the classroom unless they review it on their own. I think that putting together the interactive notebooks is a key element for retention and reflection.
I usually have my students use their scaffolded notes to complete foldable templates that I give them after the introduction of a new topic. The “foldable” part of this is not as important as the reflection. Basically, you want to have a few prompts that you give your students throughout the week so that they can revisit new information. I ask students to keep their notes and their foldable activities in their interactive notebooks so that they can use them for review.
Important Notes About Interactive Notebook Activities:
I like to keep the following things mind when assigning reflection assignment for the interactive notebooks.
- They take time to complete so it is important to have students complete one or two a week instead of 10 on one night.
- Reflections will vary among the students, they are personal and they should show what each student knows.
- They should be shared. I like to spend dedicated class time discussing the reflections so that I know if students are struggling. This really helps me to gauge the overall level of understanding in the classroom and plan for future classes.
Why Use Quick Checks for Understanding in the Classroom?
Students don’t always know what they don’t know. Giving students a few problems at the beginning of class to check their understanding will help them to determine when they need help. This understanding opens up class discussion and prevents the class from moving on to the next topic when they do not have a good grasp on what they are currently working on.
Important Notes About Quick Checks:
When I give quick checks for understanding I stick to the following limits.
- They should be limited to a small amount of problems. I like to limit the checks to between 2 and 6 very basic questions that cover the main ideas from the previous lesson.
- They should not take so long that they dig into your classroom time. I give the students between 5 and 10 minutes to answer the questions in their notebooks. We go over the answer together very quickly so that they can self-check their work.
- The checks for understanding do not replace homework or tests. They are not added to my grade sheet. They are simply checks so that students know what they need to work on.
I have tried many different types of activities and assignments in my classroom, but the three that I listed above have been the best fit for my students. In my opinion, the most important part of completing any interactive math notebook is to allow students to reflect on new information in a way that makes sense to them. These activities have helped my kids to do just that.
If you love the idea of INBs, but don’t want to create your own from scratch, we are here to help! If you are interested in interactive notebook products for Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, or Statistics, we encourage you to take a look in our store.