First Year Lessons in Using INBs

It’s been two months since I’ve been using interactive notebooks (INBs). They’re not just for elementary school students; they work amazingly well in secondary settings too! I’ve learned a few things, but I’m enjoying the ride!

  • Page numbers: Most of the students glue their foldables and write notes on exactly the same pages as my INB. This makes it very convenient; if I have to refer to an idea, I can simply refer to the page number. Also, if a student has missed classes, it’s easy to figure out what needs to be done with a quick flip through their notebook. Try as I might, there are still a few that have messed up their page order; there’s not much else I can do but to tell them to paste it elsewhere in their book. It drives me crazy, but I just have to accept it!
  • Connecting ideas: As my lessons are scaffolded, kids can easily see how each lesson connects to one another. When I used looseleaf pages, they never looked at their old notes as reference …. grrrr!!! Since keeping everything in order, I’ve noticed that they will actual refer back to yesterday’s lesson to see how it is connected with today’s work. When I taught a lesson on calculating charges of ions, I saw my Grade 10s flipping back to check the precious lesson on drawing ions. Yay! Organized notes help build independent behaviours, as well as developing metacognition.
  • Definitions: I used to find that after a lesson, I’d have to repeat basic definitions. Obviously, your want to scream, “But I just explained what a neutron is!” Since using INBs, I’ve noticed that I receive fewer silly questions.
  • Don’t give them all the answers: When I write my notes, I try to leave the last example incomplete. The students who aren’t paying attention will copy mindlessly line by line. At a quick glance, I can quickly see who is and who isn’t paying attention! I walk around to see who has finished the last example (which is usually simple to complete if they extrapolate from the initial examples). It also gives me a way of quickly assessing how well they understand as a class; I know whether I did a good job or whether I have to approach the concept a bit different next time. Next year, I will use the left page for notes and the right page will be completed by students to demonstrate their understanding. For now, going to stick with our current system.

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  • Be prepared with your teaching notes: A few times, I tried to teach my lesson without having my notes pre-written. Oops,that was a big mistake. If I try to plan it as I go along, any hesitation or second-guessing gets them confused. I end up making a terribly disorganized page in – not only my teacher INB – but everyone’s INB! If I’m properly prepped, I can flash them my page and they can see – in a quick glance – how I’ve laid out my notes. The ideas are clear in my mind as I am teaching and explaining too.
  • INBs are for notes, not for assessment: I make it clear that I never mark anything in their INBs. Looseleaf handouts come to me! You don’t get marks for copying! 

Do you use INBs? Is this something you’re interested in? What other tips can you share?


End of the Honeymoon

It’s been 6 weeks into the school year. The honeymoon season is over and some of the cracks are starting to show.

Some of my students have fallen into the habit of skipping my last period, others have locked themselves out of Class Messenger and won’t reset their passwords and I’ve had to call parents of a few kids who are abusing the privilege of using their electronic devices during class time.

But this is completely normal. Your plans are never perfect despite all the preparations you make. Life in the classroom goes on.

Overall, things are great. Some of my newer students from outside the community have started making friends and are integrating well. Class Messenger is still a successful tool; when I send out a reminder of the upcoming day at 8:30 am, a few will reply if they know they’re coming late. And despite some issues with cellphones, encouraging kids to bring their cellphones and iPods means that there are always headphones available when we need to go on the computer lab and catch up on our math lesson online.

Basic school supplies are always available to us, as long as the stock room is full, without having to dip into our individual class budgets. At any time, I can ask for paper, pencils, erasers, notebooks, markers and chalk. For any teacher working with INBs, you are often surprised to see how quickly the gluesticks run out so it’s important I always have extra boxes in the back cupboard. On top of that, scissors constantly disappear.

We had a professional development day on Friday, so I made sure to stock up on stuff. I got a dozen pair of new scissors, so to make sure everyone knows they belong to my classroom, I use a quick swipe of nail polish.

The rest of Friday was spent writing anecdotal reports by hand, in preparation for the upcoming parent’s night on Thursday, so the afternoon disappeared quite quickly.

Nothing much else to report, other than I have to get rid of a stack of marking on the weekend and make another Test Flashback for my math tests!

Teacher Gadgets: Tab Punch from We R Memory Keepers

Finally got my We R Memory Keepers tab punch in the mail today! It was a REALLY difficult find.*

The last week I was in Toronto for the summer, I drove to Michael’s and Staples. I called Scholar’s Choice and the lady on the phone had nooooo idea what I was talking about! While I have not taken up scrapbooking, I wanted this tab punch so that I could be able to flip through my interactive notebook easily.

Eventually, after reaching out to other Ontario teachers online, someone pointed me to Class Act, a shop in Oshawa. The owner helped me set up the order, gave me an estimate and mailed it to me in the north.

I love it! It’s so easily to use! It’s fabulous and perfect for my INBs! The punch itself cost $21 and the stickers are $6/12 pieces. Pretty pricey, which reminds me of labelmakers; the gadget is affordable but the refills are expensive! Normally, I wouldn’t justify spending this much for a mere tab on the side of a notebook, but after two full years of hard work – mind you, after already burning out from teaching once – I felt I deserve a little reward.

Plus staying organized should be fashionable!

*Yes, Amazon does sell this product, but where I work, we no longer are able to receive free shipping.

End of First Week!

Just finished my first week of teaching!

It’s true what they say, the first couple of years is always the hardest. Being in my third year now, I feel as if things are coming together. It really helps a lot that the I have been teaching most of the same students for two years and they know what my expectations are. I couldn’t have imagined a better first week with such a smooth running classroom (although once I lost misplaced the photocopies I was going to teach with).

I took some more photos of my class.

Read on!

Below: Took an old cardboard paper sorter that the admin didn’t want anymore. I snatched it up as soon as I saw it! These things are actually quite expensive, often over $50! I covered it with some colourful wrapping paper, but still need to relabel the shelves. The students pick up their daily handouts from here.

Below: The pencil case system is working quite wellI. Pencil cases #1 through 10 are on blue and the others are red. A sign on the wall explains that each case has a calculator, a red pen, a pencil and an eraser; if anything is missing, the teacher should be notified during the same period. It is the first thing students pick up when they come in and they get the pencil case with their “special ninja code”.

About 90% of the students do this on their own; I still have a few stragglers that come in and sit down empty-handed, wondering what to do … I have to gently chide them but I never, ever, EVER help them get their pencil cases.

I have reinforced these expectations with a few resentful rants that “I am not anyone’s waitress.” I really got tired of cleaning up after every period last year. In the last five days, I have had practically no issues.

BelowThe ladder of consequences, which I started today. Each student – in total, I have approximately 44 on paper – have their name written on a clothespin. If there is any misbehaviour, their clip goes on “verbal reminder #1”.

I explained to students that this is how I treat everyone fairly; everyone is given the opportunity to have a couple of warnings. Transparency and consistency reduces escalation as students can clearly see the consequences and where they stand.

Below: One of my favourite posters. I printed this a couple of years ago and found that it was still fairly intact. These posters help students with their metacognitive skills and encourage students to flip from a ‘fixed mindset’ to a ‘growth mindset’.

One of my favourite students, L., was reading this aloud from the bottom to the top and dancing as he read the last sentence! It was pretty funny.

Below: Yesterday, I made a foldable for our INB (interactive notebook) to review the place value system. While this might obvious to a lot of kids, second language learners can struggle with the terms, so it’s imperative to review the basics. This is also an opportune time to do some diagnostics and helps me figure out where each student stands.

Today, we did a lesson on rounding and I encouraged them to review using their foldable; these good habits build independence and gives them a set of tools for them to refer to, when they need it. Better than flash cards and I don’t have to run around the room answer the same question half a dozen times!

Below: A little poetry to help with our rounding lesson! This rhyme comes from Math with Mrs. D.


Below: Our secret math ninja codes on their pencil cases.

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Getting Started with INBs

Been setting up my math interactive notebooks the past week.

Bought a small INB starter package ($4.50 USD) from 4MulaFun off to get started. I actually ended up using $3 worth of credit that I had accumulated over the past two years, so it only cost me $1.50 (I do acknowledge the terrible exchange rate to Canadian dollars). This site has carried me through the weeks where I felt frustrated and didn’t know what to do; it is such a treasure trove of novel and wonderful ideas!

I’m a bit nervous about getting into INBs, but that’s just part of living and learning, you never know what you’re going to expect!