Interactive Notebooks in Geometry Class

Hello, my name is Natalie and I use Interactive Notebooks (INB) 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 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 from a new 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.

Habits of a Mathematician

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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.

The Beauty of Mathematics

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 led 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

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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.