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.

Twinkle, twinkle

When I first started teaching way back in 2003, I would give students that made an A on a test a “smartie” (a rather unappetizing piece of candy.) It seemed to work pretty well, as students were really happy to get their smartie and some would even hold on to the wrapper and put it in their binder as a sort of trophy. A few years into my career, I switched from smarties to offering students stars if they made an A on a test. These were simple stars cut out of construction paper and laminated. I would give them a star and a Sharpie to write their name on the star, and then I would staple their star to my bulletin board. Over the course of the semester, I would fill the bulletin board with stars, each representing good effort and mastery of content by my students.

When I started teaching at Stony Brook this year, I decided to again use the stars to recognize mastery and hopefully encourage students to care about Geometry.

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Man… did it ever work!

These students have blown me away. Seriously, I cannot say how much fun it is to teach these kids. I look forward to going to class every day, and it’s largely because of the way my students respond and interact with me. I cannot imagine doing anything else at this point.

I bought five packs of stars back in August (each pack has 48 stars, so I thought ~250 would be enough for the year.) By the sixth unit, I had bought all the stars I could find locally and ended up ordering more online. I have probably spent upwards of $50 on paper stars… next year I will figure out a more cost effective solution! Ha!

One of the incredibly fun things that has happened as a result of implementing the stars in my classroom is that my students use the stars as mini-billboards. It’s actually HI-LARIOUS.

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They use the stars to call each other out. They use the stars to brag. They use the stars to show off their artistic talent.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, there is this star. The one that prompted this entire post.

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“All Hail, The Queen!
Her Royal Highness, Mrs N. Holm
The Geometric Queen and Royal Ruler of The Stony Brook School
Rest Under the Lord’s Grace”

This star was created a few weeks ago by a student that cracks me up all the time. After receiving his star, I saw him hastily pull a couple of pre-cut paper figures from under his book. Apparently he had come prepared with different sizes of Queen Holm figures because he didn’t know which one would fit on the star better. I honestly don’t think I have ever laughed so much in class before. OH. MY. GOODNESS.

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I’m actually quite humbled by how eagerly my students have embraced the stars. It makes me realize how much they long for recognition… how much we all do. I see in so many of them that same hunger I feel to measure up and to feel like I’m “okay.” I love each and every one of my students so much and I wish I had more than a paper star to give them.

As adults, the stars we collect are not necessarily made out of paper, but we nevertheless spend time and effort gathering around us little trophies to show the world and ourselves that we measure up. This world is so, so hard and we often hear the message that we must achieve and accomplish to know that we are okay. But sadly, the harsh truth is that we aren’t okay. But the even better Truth is that if we are in Christ, we are made glorious by the One that has accomplished our salvation! It is something that I still have to remind myself of daily, sometimes minute-by-minute.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to love on these kids and to share life with them. I hope they are having as much fun as I am.