Hello, my name is Natalie and I use Interactive Notebooks to teach high school geometry.

Interactive Notebooks in High School

angles formed by transversals

I’m probably more surprised than anyone at how well they are working. I was afraid that the students would think they were too cutesy or juvenile for high school. I was sure that my 15 and 16 year old students (especially the boys) were going to moan and groan about doing “arts and crafts” in math class. Mostly, I hated the idea of wasting any class time whatsoever on what I perceived as potentially frivolous coloring, cutting, and gluing.

But, I’m happy to say that I am ready eat my words. There are so many things that I really love about INBs and only a few things that have proven to be a bit challenging. I love that students are more engaged in the note-taking process and that they are more invested in the material. I love that I can reference specific activities and pages of the book by saying things like, “it’s in the green flip book, remember?” I still don’t particularly love that it takes a few additional minutes to have students cut, staple, and glue things, but I think whatever minutes I might lose are made up in that students are actually taking notes and using them as they study. It’s amazing, really.

My little experiment of using Interactive Notebooks (INB) with high school students has been a huge success and I have a lot of people to thank. I was inspired to give the notebooks a go with my students this year after seeing some first rate examples of what other teachers are doing with INBs in high school. Sarah at Math=Love is my number one inspiration. Unfortunately, she doesn’t teach Geometry so I haven’t been able to use many of her specific lessons. BUT, I have gotten so many ideas from her about how to use INBs in my classes… seriously, I am forever grateful, Sarah!

I won’t lie- it’s been a lot of work to transition from the way I’ve taught for the past 12 years to a new method. But it has been incredibly worthwhile to approach the same content with a fresh perspective. It’s been fun to dream up new ways to present material and to really distill down what students need to put in their notebooks. So, if you are on the fence about trying something new, whether they be INBs or something else, I say go for it. I can’t promise that it will necessarily work out, but I bet you’ll learn something valuable in the process.



One of the things I try to instill in students is that there’s no such thing as “math people.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’ve never been a math person.” And it’s not just students that say this– it’s parents, administrators, and even other teachers. It’s as if people think that there are some individuals that were born with the ability to think mathematically and others are just out of luck.

Instead, I’d like to propose the idea that mathematical thinking can be developed just like you’d develop athletic skill or musical talent. You practice. And you actively cultivate habits over time that contribute to better mathematical thinking.

Bryan Meyer has come up with a list he calls the “Habits of a Mathematician.” I really loved these when I came across them a few years ago and decided to make some signs of the main habits and hang them on the front wall of my classroom. I reference them as often as I can while I’m teaching. I also like to think that by seeing them on a daily basis, we all (myself included) are reminded that our capacity for mathematical thinking is not fixed, but rather can increase as we seek out ways to develop it.

Would you like a free copy of these signs for your classroom? If so, click here to download.

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I’ve decided to start sharing some of the things that I’m doing in my classroom. I’ve been heavily influenced by other classroom teachers over the years and, since finding a robust teacher community on twitter (#MTBoS rocks!), I’ve been even more inspired to flex my creative muscles when it comes to classroom activities. Plus, when I take the time to reflect on my practice I find that I continue to grow as a teacher.

By way of a small introduction, I have been teaching since 2003. I taught for five years in public schools in North Carolina, then transitioned to online education for another five years before moving to Long Island, NY where I presently teach at a private boarding school. I’ve taught everything from Algebra 1 to Calculus, but my true love is Geometry.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon Dan Meyer via his blog and was intrigued with his Three Act Math concept. This lead me down the path of reading other like-minded folks and I eventually found Paul Lockhart’s Mathematician’s Lament. Lockhart’s writing had a profound effect on me and my philosophy around mathematics education. I am convinced that my primary purpose as a math teacher is to instill wonder and curiosity in students as they interact with the beauty that is mathematics.

I strongly believe in the idea that mathematics is beautiful and that this is why we as a society should spend so much time and effort educating students in the fundamentals of mathematics. I am thankful to have the chance to go into my classroom each day and try out new ideas and methods with students that are motivated, talented, and most of all patient with their teacher.

The digits of pi are used the create this "skyline"

The digits of pi are used the create this “skyline”

A few days ago I had the opportunity to create and teach the first part in a mini-course called The Beauty of Mathematics that will take place over three weeks. It will take place for four hours on the first three Wednesdays of November. For the first class, we explored different mathematical patterns like tessellations, the Golden Ratio, and the Fibonacci series. We also investigated why the number pi is so significant and how it could be used as inspiration for art. I wasn’t sure how students would react to the activities we had planned, but I was blown away by the focus and creativity that they brought to the task. I am so proud of them!

A student works on a tessellation project

A student works on a tessellation project

Pink elephants emerge from this tessellation project

Pink elephants emerge from this tessellation project


A student creates a unique tiling of triangles, hexagons, and rhombi to produce this “set of keys.”

Next week we are taking a trip to NYC to visit the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath.) I am beyond excited to take my students there and have them interact with the mathematical concepts they have on exhibit. Seriously, I cannot wait.

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I awoke early on my first day, nervous but excited. After driving an hour through the beautiful rural North Carolina landscape dotted with countless tobacco fields and dilapidated old barns, I walked into one of the most intimidating situations I’ve ever been in. I was a fresh-faced, twenty-three year old white woman, determined to do something meaningful with my life. I was going to do more than strive for money and success. I was going to inspire young people.

I was going to teach high school mathematics.

To say that my students were unimpressed with their new teacher would be an understatement. I tried to make up for my inexperience by having loads of enthusiasm for my subject, but after several weeks of begging students to quiet down and give me their attention, I was starting to regret my decision. I have countless stories from that first year and almost all of them involve some variation of a student misbehaving in a small way, me asking him or her to stop, and the situation escalating to a full blown confrontation. I couldn’t maintain control of my classroom and the students knew it.

Twelve years later, I sit alone in my living room and watch the video of the young girl from Spring Valley High in Columbia, SC, being pulled out of her desk by a school police officer. I watch it over and over and over. I can’t get the image out of my mind. I don’t know what to say. It’s brutal. It’s inhuman. It’s indefensible.

While the massacre in Charleston earlier this year affected me deeply, this video has shaken me to the core.

As a high school teacher, I spend a ton of time with teenagers. I have the privilege of seeing them at their best and at their worst. I see the kid with ADHD who can barely sit still after lunch and I see the girl who just had a fight with her best friend. Teenagers are complex—they can be happy, frustrated, bored, sad, lonely, hyper, angry, insecure, and on and on. It’s no wonder that tempers flare at times, but what we can never forget is that they are children. They may look fully-grown, and heaven knows many of them think they are, but they are not.

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Teaching is a messy business. Contrary to what most people think, teaching isn’t really about the content. It’s not about equations, or verbs, or parts of a cell. Teaching, or better yet, learning is about the exchange that happens between teacher and student. In order for that exchange to happen, there needs to be a relationship between teacher and student. Each needs to trust and respect the other. I didn’t understand that my first year (or three) and was constantly surprised at the behavior of my students. I expected them to sit quietly in their seats, obediently raise their hand when they had a question, and generally play the role of model students. Instead, my students were rowdy, unprepared for class, and wholly uninterested in algebra and geometry.

Around year four of my career, something clicked for me. I realized that my job—teaching mathematics to a room full of teenagers—isn’t actually about me. It isn’t about my wonderful lesson plans or my overall pass rate for end-of-course tests. Instead, my job is actually about my students. These incredibly complex teenagers who I spend so many of my waking hours with, are souls that have infinite value. They are not actors playing a scripted part, but instead are individuals with fears and dreams, insecurities and interests. They come into my classroom with a backstory that inevitably effects how they perceive and understand what happens inside that classroom. It is a privilege and a joy to cultivate a relationship with them that will allow us to go about the business of learning algebra and geometry.

I don’t know everything that happened in that classroom at Spring Valley High. There will no doubt be much speculation over the days and weeks to come about what the young girl did or didn’t do, what the teacher should have done, etc. I do know that there have been moments in my own teaching career that I would like a chance to do over. There have been times, while feeling frustrated, angry, and disrespected by a student, that I allowed my own response to escalate a situation. I know there was a better way to handle those moments and, thankfully, I have learned from those experiences. I hope and pray that all of us who work in education will remember that the students we stand in front of day in and day out are someone’s sons and daughters. They deserve our very best. Surely we can treat them with the respect and dignity we would want for our own children.

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