Getting started with interactive notebooks? Here’s what to do!

The logistics of starting an interactive notebook is one of the most dauting barriers for math teachers. Here’s a set of simple 3 steps to take to get started!

1. Number the pages (If nothing else, do this!)

You will want to be on the same page as your students, quite literally, when using interactive notebooks. Being on the same page allows you so many opportunities to promote study skills and refer students back to a particular topic to help them get “un-stuck.” Promoting study skills is one of the biggest benefits of interactive notebooks so don’t skip this step.

WORD OF CAUTION: Make sure to number the pages as the very first thing that you do! Interactive notebooks get very thick over the course of a semester, and it will be difficult to write in the corners by the time the notebook is almost complete.

If you want more tips on choosing a notebook, read this post about What notebook should I use for an Algebra 1 Interactive Notebook?

If you’re just getting started with using interactive notebooks with your Algebra 1 class, you might have a few questions about what type of notebook you should use, how many pages, and how to make sure all of your students have one to use. In this post, I’ll try to address them all. If I leave something out, leave me a comment so I can answer your question!

What type of notebook should I use for interactive notebooks?

As a die-hard spiral-notebook lover, it even surprised myself when I first realized that composition books are the best choice for interactive notebooks. They had never been my first, second, or even third choice for my own personal note-writing over my life, so I was a bit resistant to trying them for the first time. Here’s what I found:

Whoo boy, that was a mouthful of a title, but it’s spot on! I’m now back in the thick of distance learning, once again, and this time it’s quite different than what I experienced in the Spring. In the Spring there were a lot of pre-recorded class sessions and we only met for 30 minutes 2x a week to do quick check-ins and a super fast mini-lesson. I also already knew all of my students so getting them to engage really wasn’t difficult at all.

This time around, it’s really different. Classes are 90 minutes each, 4x a week, and we’re doing a whole year of content in a semester. I also know only a small handful of my students because they’ve either been in my Advisory class for the last two years, or I had them last year and they have the total pleasure (mild sarcasm) of learning with me again. I’m grateful for all of the pictures of their faces on our online gradebook, because that’s the only way I know what any of them look like.

There are lots of blank screens and the chat box can be pretty quiet, but don’t let that intimidate you! I’m so excited to report that, amongst all the negative noise this year has brought, I’ve got something really good going on. I’ve found that Pear Deck has been aGAME CHANGER for student engagement and getting formative assessment feedbackthat iseven better than what I get in the classroom in a normal year!

If you’re not familiar with Pear Deck, I would HIGHLY recommend it. I have found it to be the closest way to recreate a typical classroom environment.

I use Pear Deck in conjunction with writing my notes under a document camera that I am screen-sharing through Google Meets. Students log in at the beginning of class every day, and it has quickly become a routine. I have more students engaging through Pear Deck than I have experienced over past years in the typical, in-person classroom setting that we’re all used to. If I have 26 students logged in on Pear Deck, I get 23 responses! That might not be a 100% success rate, but how many times in a traditional, in-person class do you get EVERYONE responding to every one of your questions?

At first, I was trying to be so fancy…Let’s make a new Pear Deck for every class every day, she said, only to later find out how unlikely of a routine that would be to maintain. So, here’s what I did–I made myself a Pear Deck Google Slides template that I can use with any of my math classes (this year, I have Algebra 1/Algebra Support, Pre-Calculus, and Statistics) and reuse every single day. All I have to do is launch the Pear Deck at the beginning of each class and generate a fresh code for my students and we’re in business! If you want to be extra fancy, you can log in early and grab a link for students to join with (so they don’t have to use a code) and post it to Google Classroom for a super painless way to join the Pear Deck every day.

So much of formative assessment are things that come up on the fly, and this template allows the flexibility to recreate it beautifully in a virtual setting. When I was pre-planning everything into Pear Deck, this didn’t allow me that same flexibility to ask questions if I didn’t think of adding them ahead of time. DISCLAIMER: You can add slides on the fly once a Pear Deck has been started, but I haven’t found a way to add custom slides that really fit my math-class needs.

I have created a Pear Deck Google Slides template that has multiple copies of the slides I like to use with my students for formative assessment so that there’s always a fresh slide of that type available if I decide that’s the type of check-in I need to do in that moment. When I use the Pear Deck, I always turn it to instructor-paced, which allows me to change slidesas needed, and students have no idea that there may be 7 identical prompts in a row that all say “Ask me a question!” If there’s a need for me to show another one of those slides later on, I can swap to a fresh slide so they can start typing again. If I don’t, no harm, no foul.

When the moment arises, I verbally direct students to swap over to their Pear Deck tab to respond to the question/prompt I just gave them. At this time, I turn my screen into split-screen mode where half of it is showing the Pear Deck slide in question (on projector mode) and the other half is still showing my document camera. Again, this duo has made student engagement in the lessons so much higher than simply relying on them to type into the chat box or asking them to unmute themselves and actually speak (I do both of those, but none of them come even close to the same level of student participation that I get with Pear Deck).

I hope you try incorporating this into your daily classroom routine! It has really been fantastic for me and I hope it does the same for you!

Although the idea of exit tickets is well known, figuring out how to master using them in your middle & high school math classes is a different story. From finding time to create them, remembering to actually give them, and teaching your students how to do them, this 5-part blogging series covers it all. At the end, there’s even a bonus installment that’s all about how to turn your exit tickets digital!

This is a bonus installment in the Everything You Ever Wanted To Know about Using Exit Tickets in your Math Classroom blogging series to show you how to take an exit ticket template that you use and love, and turn it into a digital format for your students to complete. As we grapple with hybrid schedules and the possibility of distance learning, this is more important than ever!

Read Post 1 here– 5 Reasons you Should be Using Exit Tickets in Your Middle & High School Math Class. This post covers what an exit ticket is and why you would want to use one in your math class.

Read Post 2 here– How often should I use an exit ticket? A secondary math teacher explains all. This post discusses how often you should be giving an exit ticket, and ways to save time in creating them so you can actually keep up and make it routine.

Read Post 3 here – How to Implement Exit Tickets like a Math Teacher Pro. This post discusses how to introduce them to your students and tips for actually remembering to give them each day!

Read Post 1 here– 5 Reasons you Should be Using Exit Tickets in Your Middle & High School Math Class. This post covers what an exit ticket is and why you would want to use one in your math class.

Read Post 2 here–How often should I use an exit ticket? A secondary math teacher explains all. This post discusses how often you should be giving an exit ticket, and ways to save time in creating them so you can actually keep up and make it routine.

Starting the year off right is SO important for any class, but especially in Algebra in particular, since everything that is done in the first unit is used throughout the entire year. Students NEED to have a strong foundation, or else they’ll be fighting an uphill battle all year, which is no good. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what topics are most important for students to know (from vocabulary to skills), so that each following unit has a strong foundation.

Here are all of the notes I used with my students during the 1st unit of Algebra 1.

I’ve never been shy about saying I think there are some Pi Day activities out there that are a total waste of your time. Heck, I’ve probably said that Pi Day, itself, is a total waste of time. If you’re honest with yourself about why you’re doing them, then you do you (no shame at all), but I knew that there had to be a better way to help students develop their love for math than just having a party day.

It might go without saying at this point, but Celebrating Pi Day in my classroom hasn’t always been at the top of my list, and at times, I’ve not even been a fan of it at all (please don’t revoke my math teacher card!). Most of the time it just seems like a party day that, ultimately, ends up being a waste of time that I could’ve really used as an extra instructional day. Here’s what I did to make Pi Day a totally fun, but also a super rich and rigorous educational experience for my students.

This winter, I’ve been working with my first ever student teacher. One of the first things that we did was make a list of different practice structures and the benefits of each one. He had definitely heard of some of them from his MAT program, but several of them were brand new. One of the newbies, was a “Mystery Sum” activity, which happens to be one of my all-time favorites. I got to talking with the other math teachers in my department, and none of them had heard of it either!

Since Mystery Sum Group Challenge Activities are one of my favorite practice structures, I figured I’d share all of the details with you! Be forewarned, I will say it’s the most time-consuming of the practice structures if you’re making it from scratch.