Author Archives: Nat

About Nat

Middle and High School Math Teacher and College Art Teacher

Algebra Notebooks: One Year In.

Although I have been thinking of this for a long time, last year for the first time, I guided students to create notebooks for Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. The major design influence for these notebooks was from Sarah Carter(@mathequalslove ). Her notebook dividers inspired me, and gave me exactly the structure that I needed to put these together. Feel free to skip down to the end of the post for the files. In this post, I’m sharing much of what we used for Algebra 2 last year.

I am convinced that this process really helped us in some key ways. We used them as a structure to organize the year’s work, a format to help relate one idea to the next, and a compact guide to prepare for skills-based assessments. The process of curating the notebooks was very clarifying for me. Textbooks have so much information, that it can be overwhelming for students. I wanted to include the most important ideas and examples in our notebooks so they would be useful and clear but not overwhelming.

Although I do admire some of the more “crafty” notebook pages, I didn’t include any foldy parts, or mini-booklets or that kind of thing during this first year of implementation. These are still “interactive” notebooks (INBs) in the important sense of that definition; that students use these as a tool to interact with math. I would think that part of the purpose of the foldy parts is to support students in using their notebooks not to just read over their notes, but to self-quiz, so because we did not do this, we did some explicit work on how to use their notebooks to study, even if they did not have to unfold a part to find the answer. We built in at least three meaningful interactions with new content: during class to fill in the big picture, at home to complete the notes, and then in class to use the notes to solve new problems (…a lot of open-notebook entrance tickets).

 

Each section has a unit divider, which includes summary learning targets, honors-level extensions, and essential questions. Just about everything in the notebook asks students to create their own notes – although in a very few places, I just made summary notes for them. These notes are generally filled in after we have done some discovery and worked examples together. They are one of the culminating parts of each lesson.

 

Here are some reflections on the Algebra 2 notebooks. I’ll share the Algebra 1 notebooks soon. As this was the first year, these are definitely incomplete. However, this is a substantial start, and I would be happy if it helps another teacher to get started. The files are .pdf for ease, but please do let me know if you want editable versions or have questions or suggestions.

A few lessons from year 1:

  • Students take FOREVER to glue things
  • Students love gluing things – even high-schoolers
  • Students appreciate organizational help – both the ones who really need the help and those who would be fine on their own.

Things to add to the mix for next year:

  • Some tweaks to a few of the graphic organizers (eg. the factoring pages – I didn’t really like these, and the method is a bit cumbersome. I learned a better technique from a colleague this year that I think I‘ll use next year).
  • Include a complete vocab page for each unit
  • I want to do a better job with helping binder organization (…the companion to the math notebook – everything that doesn’t go in the notebook goes in the binder).

In some cases, in the files below, I’ve included both a blank and a filled-in version, which generally includes teacher notes. Unless the time pressure doesn’t allow for this, I would suggest always giving students the blank versions so they can make their own notes. Having said that, summary notes can be useful if they are given at the end of a topic to make sure that the notes are correct – I tried to do regular teacher or peer notebook checks, but some mistakes slip by, and we wanted to make sure that the notebooks contained correct info.

These are not meant to be a stand-alone. As with any textbook, these notes are always meant to be guided by the teacher.

Attributions/Notes for Notebook Pages: Although I created a fair amount of this from scratch, I definitely borrowed a lot as well. I have made every effort to give credit for everything I’ve used in these notebooks. If I slipped up, I truly apologize. Please do let me know and I’ll add an attribution. This is just one year in for me, and should not be seen as the entirety of the courses. In a few cases, I found someone else’s graphic organizers and just used those. If I didn’t manage to keep track of the sources, I didn’t want to take credit for this work, so didn’t include those pages.

 Unit Dividers – major design inspiration from Sarah Carter(@mathequalslove )

Unit 0

  • Algebra Learning Agreements – we create these together, and I print a poster, which everyone signs and is posted in the classroom. I printed copies of these for kids to glue into their notebooks so we could refer to them when needed.

Unit 1

  • The Key Feature Cards were adapted from the New Visions Curriculum
  • Visual Patterns Guidelines – I had mixed feelings about this one, as the last thing I want to do is to do the explicit thinking for students and rob them of the best part of math – but I decided to include these pages so students have at least one or two worked examples. Upon reflection, I don’t think that this got in anyone’s way.

Unit 2

  • Unit divider: family of functions poster – not sure from whence I got this graphic, but I didn’t make it. If you know, please let me know so I can give credit.

Unit 3

  • Exact Trig Values Chart from Don Steward

Unit 4

Unit X

Back Cover

  • Sweet math poster taken from
    http://loopspace.mathforge.org/CountingOnMyFingers/PiecesOfMath/#section.1

Here is the file. Enjoy, and please let me know if you get some use out of this!

2017_Alg 2 Notebook

Polynomial Guess

 

MOTIVATING COMPLEXITY             THROUGH PUZZLES

I found a really nice number guessing game several years ago, and I’ve used variations of this puzzle several times over the last few years in my Algebra class. Kids can’t help but want to know the answer to a logic riddle like this, and this year it occurred to me that I might be able to leverage this “want to know the puzzle answer” to motivate some more focus on understanding quadratics or higher degree polynomials.

The idea is that you choose a “secret” number, and give clues one at a time until students can narrow down the possibilities to a single answer.  I decided to try the same idea with more complicated expressions, so I created a couple of quadratics puzzles, and a polynomial version. I had these posted on the Sweet Math wall, and would add clues roughly one each day. I ran a simple number version, alongside the more advanced ones to allow entry for middle schoolers, and extension for high schoolers. I definitely noticed kids lingering at the clues as I added them. Some kids even asked me what time of day I would be adding another one. In an unexpected turn, it was a history teacher who submitted the correct guess for the first number puzzle. In your face Algebra students!

Although I haven’t done this yet, I like the idea of creating examples for sequences, and I think I’ll try this next year. Is the glory of being the first to guess correctly important enough to take the chance of guessing when there might be two possibilities for the common ratio of a geometric sequence? Do you team up with another student when you’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities so one of you is guaranteed to be victorious?

Here are a few of the puzzles I made in case you’d like to try them out. Please do let me know if you find them useful or if you think that I should sequence the clues differently or if you have other ideas for how to make them better.

 

Number Guess 1

Number Guess 2

Polynomial Guess

 

2017 Desmos Art Project

 


Our results were  so successful last year that we made only small changes to this year’s Grade 10 graphing/art project.  I made some small changes to the guidelines and the rubric to simplify and clarify things for students, and as always, the files are below in case they might be useful for you.  I’ve also included a pdf of this year’s student work in case some exemplars would be useful.

 

A few reflections from this year…

  • This is my sixth or seventh year doing some version of this task, and it was nice to focus on improving student work rather than improving the project
  • I am super proud of this year’s student work.  I had worked with many of these students as 8th graders, and it was very gratifying to see their growth over this longer time.  Some students who were not my strongest in Grade 8 did really impressive work this year
  • This project is time consuming for students, especially those who decide on ambitious piece.  Interim deadlines are key, and I think I will add one more next year to keep students on track so they are not in a panic just before the final deadline.  Although students were really proud, this did take a little of the joy out of the last few hours of work.  (But I think was in part because they had a big science test on the same day as this project was due)
  • Some of the more ambitious work included shading using inequalities, which were restricted by complex functions.  The functions were correct, but the software was a little buggy in rendering these, so they didn’t always look perfect.  A couple of students were a little frustrated by this – the one and only time I’ve seen students frustrated by Desmos
  • Drawing with graphs remains a powerful way to motivate practice and students’ interest in understanding how equations relate to functions
  • Asking kids to commit to re-creating something forced them to be purposeful and deliberate in every choice

 

Here are the guidelines and student work.  I also give students some sentence frames along with suggested vocabulary to help them with their reflective math writing.  Find me on twitter, by email, or in the comments below to continue the conversation!

Desmos Art Project Student Work 2016-17

Desmos Drawing Project Guidelines and Rubric_Revised

Desmos Drawing Project Reflection Assistant

 

Paper is the enemy.


Actually, I love paper.  Writing, drawing, folding… love it.  I’m even running an after school origami club this semester.  And as a math teacher, paper is actually the preferred medium (second to whiteboards of course).  While technology gives us many tools that speed up and deepen math learning, much math isn’t suited to the computer screen or the computer keyboard. So paper is necessary, and as a result, organizing papers is totally necessary.

While it does seem like organization is something that many teachers bring as one of their natural skills, this is not something that came naturally or easily for me. It has taken me years of not being together to develop enough layers of systems that my classroom is organized, and as a result my students are organized – and this year has been a huge improvement for my students.  We are set up so most things just work, and we don’t spend our precious class time passing back work or figuring out where the handouts are. Here are some of the systems that have had the most positive effects on my students and our classroom this year in case they might be useful for someone else.

Inboxes and outboxes

I definitely needed systems for the day-to-day passing back and forth of written math thinking and feedback. I have a separate inbox for each class, and each student has a mailbox (…or a mail folder). My grade 8 class is small enough that they each have a mailbox, and my high school students each have a folder in a pass-back crate. I have fewer than 70 students, so this is manageable for me, but I think it would be worth it, even with greater numbers.

The mailboxes have also had an excellent unforeseen side effect: when a student is absent, I just put any handouts into their mailbox. I print exactly enough copies for the whole class, and don’t need to worry about keeping track of extra copies of work from past days or notebook pages or homework sheets that students did not get. Students know to check their mailboxes when they return to school after an absence.

Extensions, extra practice, remediation

This has been a way for me to put some responsibility on students to figure out what they need. Because we rarely use the textbook, students rely heavily on me to give them appropriate problem and practice sets. Before this year, I was often frantically printing extra sets, or creating and copying sets as I needed them. This year, in addition to the regular classwork and homework, I am preparing leveled sets of work. I include foundational practice for students who need to brush up on their pre-algebra, extra practice sets for the current work we’re doing, and extension and challenge work for those who are ready. Students know that if they finish with their in-class work, that they can self-select from the appropriate boxes or get extra practice before an assessment.  I followed three students into my classroom yesterday, and asked if I could do anything for them.  They said, “No thanks, we’re fine.”  They went and took a variety of extra practice and extensions, wished me a good afternoon, and left. It was a pretty good feeling to seem unnecessary.

Daily Work

Like most of us, I often have my classes back to back to back without a break in-between. That means that I have to be super prepared before my first group of students arrives in the morning. Even when I made copies ahead of time, I found myself misplacing the work for the current class, or not able to lay my hands on it at the moment when I needed it, and wasting the first few minutes of class finding the right papers. No longer. I put each class’s work in a slot so it’s ready when they get there.

 

Homework

Same deal. I transfer these from the class slot to the HW slot at the start of class, and students know to take a copy on their way out of class.

 

 

 

 

 

File Cabinet

Now I’m just showing off. Before this year, a file cabinet was just a place to stuff papers until another time when I would come back to throw them away. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal to you, but this is the first time in my life I’ve been able to find anything that I’ve filed before.  Totally worth the time in labeling!

Although none of this is at all original or revolutionary, maybe something will be helpful for you.  :) Please share more organizational systems in the comments or find me on twitter if you have more ideas to share.

Students Know

Students know.

This post was written as part of the 2017 MTBoS Blogging Initiative, in response to the prompt “We all fall down.”

When I was finishing my graduate degree, I was hired to teach my first college art class.  I was really proud of being the “professor.”  I would come to class and say all of the things that I thought the professor should say.  I had had some really wise teachers who showed up to class and gave really wise commentary about art, and I thought that what I was supposed to do was to emulate their behavior, and say wise things.  I remember that there were a lot of students so we had divided up the first formal critique into two days.  On the first day, I acted the part that I thought I had been hired to act.  I said things that sounded like what an art professor should say.

The students saw right through it.  They could tell that I was just playing a part.  It was a miserable day both for them and for me.  I really reflected about this, and was determined for day 2 to be different.  But I was scared too.  If I didn’t say the things that were my idea of what someone in that role should say, what would I have to contribute?  I went to class ready for it to be even worse than the first day.

I don’t know if I said anything wise or deep or even if I gave any meaningful feedback that day, but I was honest.  And students were totally different.  They were actively listening to me and to each other.  They could immediately sense that there was a difference between the two days of critique.  What they wanted was not my idea of an art teacher.  What they wanted was honesty.  As soon as I just acted like myself, they were willing to be on the journey together – even if they had an inexperienced captain.

As a math teacher, I have been so grateful to have made these mistakes in the art classroom.  I had so many art students who were much more gifted artists than I, that I didn’t feel threatened when my math students would catch on to something new before I did, or would think of a more elegant solution than the one I had in mind.  I learned to be comfortable with not knowing as an artist, and have translated these important lessons to my math classroom.  When I catch myself trying to be wise or trying to sound like something I’m not, I remember that first critique day.  Students know.

Read and Share: Some Important Voices in My Classroom

This post was written as part of the 2017 MTBoS Blogging Initiative, in response to the prompt Read and Share.

My math teaching jobs have been at small schools, where I have been the only one teaching my courses.  While I have had great colleagues, I have never had a group of math teachers at my own school to collaborate with.  As a result, the MTBoS has been hugely important to my development as a teacher, and while there are far too many amazing and generous educators who have changed my teaching to list here, I thought that I would share a few of the voices who have had the greatest day-to-day impact in my own classroom, and have linked their name to a recent post that taught me something or caused me to reflect on my practice.  Most of these will not be a surprise to anyone who knows what the letters in MTBoS stand for.

Here’s a student sketching one of Dan Meyer’s Graphing Stories, which has been projected on the whiteboard

Dan Meyer: For me, he is among the most important voices in contemporary math education. I incorporate his ideas about how to make math education meaningful and relevant for my students into my classroom everyday.  But in addition, I follow closely his open minded approach, and his attitudes toward having a productive conversation even with someone who starts from the premise of disagreement, or even a critic who begins by hating on him.

Fawn Nguyen – What can you say about Fawn? Her brash and direct writing give her the room to discuss what it means to really care about your students, and to share he joy of mathematics and the empowerment that comes from learning how to be a problem solver. I will read every word that Fawn writes for us.

A pattern from Fawn’s excellent visual patterns.org

Nora Oswald – No one can gamify math like Nora. Her activities (or at least the structure of her games) make appearances in my classes at least a couple of times a year. Her structures seem to provoke the healthy kind of competition – where students want to push themselves without keeping the other team down.

The Desmos Team – The desmos team models how to be learners.  They are continually responsive to the community and to improving the calculator and the experience for users.

Kalid Azad – I just recently discovered Kalid’s work when I was looking for a better way to explain the graph of the sine function with radian scale. He has a knack for sharing straightforward examples and ways of thinking about math that focus on conceptual understanding.  The linked post definitely had an immediate impact on my class the next day, and I am making my way through his older work to see where else it might lend new insights for me and for my students.

Ben Orlin – Math with Bad Drawings is insightful, entertaining, and true.  Harder to say exactly what I bring into my classroom, but I find myself thinking of his posts often when I’m with students.

David Wees – In addition to the contributions of the New Visions work to my own Algebra curriculum, reading this blog regularly adds a tweak to one of my instructional routines, or adds depth to my formative assessments.

Jo Boaler – her work with youcubed is a really important voice in promoting equity in math education.  As a feminist, my goal to promote equity, uncover unconscious bias, and create opportunities for ALL students is at the core of why I became a teacher, and in fact at the core of my personal values outside of being a teacher.

Whose voices are most important to your teaching, and how do they show up in your classroom?

MTBoS 2017 Soft Skills: My Grade 8 Exit Trip

Here is an excerpt from something I read to students before we get on the bus to leave for our end of middle school overnight trip.  It comes from Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL football star and volunteer coach for the Gilman high school football team .  This comes from the book Season of Life, which I originally read about at Delancey Place.

” ‘What is our job?’ Biff asked on behalf of himself, Joe, and the eight other assistant coaches.

” ‘To love us,’ most of the boys yelled back. The older boys had already been through this routine more than enough times to know the proper answer. The younger boys, new to Gilman football, would soon catch on.

” ‘And what is your job?’ Biff shot back.

‘To love each other,’ the boys responded. “

This post was written in response to Sam Shah’s week 2 mission from the 2017 MTBoS Blogging Initiative: #MTBoSBlogsplosion.  Sam suggested that we focus this week on “soft skills” – the things that we do to help kids grow that aren’t necessarily directly teaching math.  I’ve written here about an overnight trip that I organize at the end of the grade 8 year, including some specifics of the activities that we do to help bring us together.

I believe that as a teacher, helping kids to be confident, and to care about and respect each other is equal in importance to any math skills.  I try to design many lessons to provide opportunities for both of these things – a balance between problem solving, individual reflection, and social behaviors.  These are typically not at odds with each other – teaching problem solving and math skill building does help to boost confidence, and opens more doors for a whole student, however I try to be deliberate about also choreographing social opportunities.  I also include lots of small things in our classroom routines that are there just to build relationships – things which are not specifically math, but which are directed at helping kids to understand how to treat each other, and how to be self-fulfilled, and how to reach their “personal best.”  The Grade 8 exit trip is designed with this in mind.

I am deliberate about using the words field “work” rather than field “trips” when I am off campus with students.  This language makes it clear that we are not passive observers, but instead that we are purposeful in our activities.  I tried to design this trip with this in mind, and had to articulate what I want students to get out of this trip:

  • I want to mark the end of middle school, and entrance to high school as an important benchmark.  This is a big deal for students, and I want to honor this.
  • We should make sure to look back.  They should have some opportunities to reflect on their time as middle schoolers, and to celebrate their personal successes, and the successes of their peers.
  • We should make sure to look forward.  What are they looking forward to?  What fears do they have?
  • We should make opportunities for them to showcase their content skills – writing, performing, problem solving.
  • We should showcase that we value students as whole people – young adults who have idiosyncratic strengths.
  • We should have fun so we have a positive framework to look back on.

We start the day by gathering around a metal can.  Students are given a slip of paper, and asked to write down something that they want to leave behind from middle school.  I tell kids that the move to High School is an opportunity to re-invent yourself, and that we all have things that we want to leave behind and change about ourselves or about our feelings toward some others.  We then toss our slips into the can, and set them on fire – metaphorically “burning our baggage.”  While we are in our circle around the baggage can, I read the rest of the anecdote quoted above to the group.  The message is that whatever ideas we have about each other, we can also find positives, and for this trip, we set aside any issues, and focus on loving each other, and showing that love to each other.

Next, we all draw names from a hat, which contains everyone’s name from the class.  During the bus ride, students are asked to think of something that they appreciate about the person whose name they have drawn.  When we get off of the bus, we begin with an “appreciation circle” where students are asked to share these acknowledgements of their peers.  Our next task is a hike.  I like to find a place where we have to climb up a trail to get to the top of a mountain.   We choose a hike that is as difficult as we feel we can manage for our least in-shape student (or teacher chaperone).  This gives us a metaphor to discuss when we get to the summit.  How climbing the mountain felt like a big deal, and there was complaining, but that we felt accomplished after we got to the top, and about how we helped each other to make it all the way there.  We make some explicit parallels to their middle school experience here, and then we have our second appreciation circle, where students are asked to reciprocate the appreciation that they received at the base of the hike.

After a snack, students are asked to write a short story in their journals, using the gathered group as the characters in their story.  The story includes a favorite memory from middle school,  a fear about High School, and something that they’re looking forward to in High School.  These always manage to include some of the inside jokes of the group, and highlight some of the idiosyncrasies that we love about each other.  We share back some of these, and then have a late lunch.  I always make sure to prepare some of the food for lunch.  Even if I just make a fruit salad or something, this is how we show love in my family – by feeding each other.  I let students know that this is one way that I am letting them know that I love them.

We give the kids some free time after we get to our hotel before dinner, and finish the evening with some problem solving tasks and reflection.  On day 2, we choose a site and organize some drama and analytical Social Studies activities around where we are.  After lunch, and before heading back to school, we include a closing circle where we reflect on the trip, on our time together, and on what lies ahead.

Preparing to do a Shakespeare reading in an ancient amphitheater!

In considering my students, I am most proud of those who leave my class having gained respect for themselves and for each other, and demonstrate this respect.  This does often go hand in hand with gaining confidence as problem solvers or as math thinkers, but I admit that I have had students who have totally blown it as math students (one or two who have even failed my class), but who still come to have lunch with me sometimes.  I still find some success in having built relationships, and I hope that maybe they’ll learn some math later when they’re ready.

MTBoS 2017: My favorite… tool for teaching transformations

My favorite tools for teaching transformations from parent functions are the Desmos Marbleslides. This is the first year that I have been able to use these activities to cement our learning across function families in our Algebra 2 classes. While these aren’t exactly skill and drill practice, they do seem to give students similar opportunities to do the repetitive work that is needed to build procedural fluency.

Just a few of the reasons I love these marbleslides…

  • They are consistently motivating, fun, and engaging
  • There are opportunities for creative solutions
  • They present open problems with multiple solutions, battling the idea that all math problems have exactly one answer that is in the back of the textbook!
  • As a teacher, I am always interested in and surprised by student solutions – very different from much of my grading
  • Students demonstrate perseverance through these challenges – they really want to come to solutions, and will keep working until they succeed

I made my first custom Marbleslide for students to practice transforming absolute value functions. My activity is basically an exact copy of the Desmos team’s work, but with Absolute value equations. The custom activity was very easy to build, and I am turning over some more creative ideas to explore now that I have done this.

I am pretty sure that part of our success with our understanding of transformations has come from the course map this year. We are basing this year’s sequence of topics around families of functions. We began with an informal study, just looking at shapes and appearances of graphs, and what kids of situations might be modeled by different function types, and have been adding formal analysis of each family with each new unit.  Starting with this big picture has given students a framework to fit each family into – they are connecting what is similar and what is different as they dive into each new kind of function.

It has been amazing to see – we have just gotten into trigonometry, and by the time we got to the sine function, kids were so comfortable with shifting graphs around the plane that I didn’t need to do any explicit instruction – they knew to play with the constants to get their graphs to shift in different ways, and with very little prompting from me, they argued out the differences between period and amplitude shifts.

I am excited to see how these understandings will transfer to the Desmos Drawing project this year. Last year’s students set a pretty high bar, but this year’s 10th graders are already demonstrating a deeper understanding – and 3 months earlier.  Stay tuned!

MTBoS 2017 Blogging Initiative

Happy New Year! Time to share back and collaborate again. Looking forward to seeing ideas from new bloggers and to checking in with old friends.  Note: this post originally appeared on the ExploreMTBoS site.

 

Welcome to the Explore the MTBoS 2017 Blogging Initiative! With the start of a new year, there is no better time to start a new blog! For those of you who have blogs, it is also the perfect time to get inspired to write again! Please join us to participate in this years blogging initiative! […]

via New Year, New Blog! — Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere

2016-17 Algebra Notebooks: Scaffolding Organization

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Confession: Since I began teaching math, I haven’t really managed to use a textbook. I do generally claim on my syllabus that we are using UCMCP or Saxon or Kendall Hunt as our “anchor” text, but year after year, I find that it is just too hard to integrate house-created or MTBoS-sourced materials with a textbook’s sequence. I do hand out textbooks at the start of the year (my current school uses UCSMP). I make sure to give the occasional homework assignment from the book so they remember that they have one as a resource. I direct them to the related lessons in the book as we work together in class, and I reference the parts of the book that students can use to help them prepare for semester exams when I prepare the exam review materials.

I also use some problem sets from the book, but truth be told, when I have tried, I just have not found printed textbooks to be effective learning tools for students – although I admit that it’s possible that I just haven’t found the right book yet. But I think that there is more to it – the pre-printed book format has to include all of the information, all at once. It takes away the possibility to choreograph and reveal information in a controlled way – a way that builds suspense, piques interest, and doesn’t spoon-feed.  This pedagogical idea closely correlates with the guiding principles for creating math activities as articulated by the Desmos team. Digital media allows for this type of sequencing of information, but we can also do this in person by doling out questions, information, and formal notes at the right moment during our lessons. We still share and give explanations, but whenever possible, not until AFTER a student has had the opportunity to make some sense for himself or herself.  Building our books piece by piece allows for this unfolding process.  I have also found that most students arrive in my class with some variation of the idea that math only exists in the textbook, and is not related to their lives outside of class at all.  Creating our own books has been another tool to help combat these beliefs.

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To be real, this approach does translate to a huge amount of work. At this moment, there is no resource that is set up for us to use in this way, and putting together a coherent and cohesive curriculum for ourselves is a full time job in and of itself – even before delivering said curriculum. I totally understand why a teacher might choose to just use the book. Spending so much time doing this means that we are not spending time on other important parts of our job – like giving meaningful feedback, communicating with families, or collaborating on interdisciplinary work – all of which are arguably just as important. But I just have not found a book that works by itself. I think that I can do better for students by curating materials from multiple sources.

To get to the point of this post, what this has meant is that I create a ton of printed materials, which students have to keep organized. This has worked just fine for half of my students – the ones who have already built good organizational and study skills. The other half end up with binders full of papers – much of it meaningful, but often in no particular order, and they don’t know what to do to go back to review or to prepare for assessments.

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This year, one of my professional goals is to help my students to organize all of this material. I required all students to bring a math notebook (at least 100 pages), and a math binder. The notebooks will only include material, which is correct, polished, and can be used to study from and the binders will be where we store all of our working and thinking – we are basically building our own personal textbooks.  I let students know that the notebooks will serve as an ongoing assessment of understanding, and are therefore treated as a graded assignment.  They know that they will be expected to periodically present their notebook to be checked.

I was inspired by @mathequalslove’s notebooks, and used her basic design for the unit dividers. The learning goals for the unit are listed on each divider, along with space for us to fill in the big picture generalizations (at the end of each unit). My school has made the decision to track students from grade 8 (honors and non-honors sections), but I do my best to leave the door open for students to be upwardly mobile by making the honors-level work available to all students.  In the notebooks, this translates to a second page for each unit, which details the honors-specific learning goals.

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Included in each unit:

  • Unit divider with learning goals
  • Honors-level extensions with learning goals
  • Essential Questions
  • Unit Vocabulary
  • Various graphic organizers/ note-takers for content (Although I appreciate many teachers who get crafty with their “interactive” notebooks, I don’t tend to use foldy things. It takes a huge amount of time to just glue in the flatty things)
  • Worked examples

A side result of this work is that these notebooks have made me a better teacher as well. Once again, I had to take my unit plans, and really make careful decisions about what needed to be included in the notebooks. Although I don’t stick to the order in which the skills are listed, my organization has to be in place at the start of each unit.

Here are the materials for Unit 0 and Unit 1 for Algebra 1 and 2. I’ll publish these as we complete each unit.  Please do let me know if you use these, or if you have suggestions for improvement.  I have also included a Unit X in our notebooks, which includes materials for general problem solving and reference materials (times tables, trig tables, unit conversions, etc.) I’ll likely share this at the end of the year, as we are continually adding to it.  Lots of questions still linger, and I will be grateful for your input.  In particular, here are my current quandaries…

  • I know that my binder sections are not right yet, (I have divided their sections into homework, classwork, assessments, reflection, and “other.”) and could definitely use some advice there.
  • After two units with each class, I already see some changes I’ll make for next year.  Do you see some things you would do differently?
  • Does dividing up the standard vs. honors-level targets in this way make sense?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

alg-1-unit-1 alg-2-unit-1-families notebooks-unit-0