Archive for July, 2016

The hardest part of deciding what to put in my INBs involves the first few pages. If I forget something, or find something new afterwards, I won’t have any extra blank pages to use. Leave extra pages and I might run out during the year. Not to mention blank pages drive me crazy! For the last two years, the first four pages in my notebooks have been the same for all my classes. I haven’t thought of anything else that I want to add to this section, so I plan to keep it the same again this year. Let’s take a look.

I teach in New York state. That means my students must pass the Common Core Regents Exam in order to graduate. The state includes a references table of conversions and formulas for students to refer to while taking the test. This is good. Each exam used to have its own reference sheet. Not any more. The reference table was changed when we switched to Common Core to include conversions and formulas for every level of high school math, all together. This is not good. My students have a hard time figuring out what to use from a sheet with lots of information, much of which they don’t need and have never seen before. I knew they would need lots of practice using this document. In the past I have printed out multiple copies, laminated them and kept them in the class crate for students to use. When I switched to INBs, I decided to put a copy right in the notebook. I made a copy at 85% (Remember the magic number? I use composition notebooks so if I reduce any copies to 85%, they will fit these notebooks perfectly.), then made multiple copies on brightly colored paper. We glued them right on the inside front cover so they were easy to find, and we used them. Constantly. By the time they sit the exam at the end of 10th grade, they are so comfortable with the reference sheet that they can use it without thinking too much about it. Nailed it! Want your own copy? Find it here.

I decided to include my syllabus on the first page. After we go over it in class, students and parents must sign it. This gives them all the information they need, right in their notebooks. See my original post for more information. Not sure why they look like different colors. It is the same sheet, copied as a two-sided document.



The next two pages include an insert describing what an interactive notebook is, and the rubric that I use to grade them. I found these and saved them two years ago, never dreaming I would start blogging. I have not been able to find the sites where I found them. If they are yours, or you recognize them, please, please, please let me know so I can give proper credit and link to the site! The notebook description is included to help my students share the background behind the notebooks with their families. The rubric shows them exactly what I am looking for when I grade them. I try to do notebook checks at the end of every unit.

Math Notebook Description p.2

Math INB Rubric p.3

What I don’t include in the front of our notebooks? A table of contents. I tried this the first year and my students couldn’t find ANYTHING! Many have difficulty reading, so several pages of entries quickly becomes overwhelming. We create a separate table of contents for each unit. You can read about it in this earlier post.

That takes care of the first few pages of our notebooks. Now for the back.

My students love to play games. If you haven’t tried Plickers yet, you are missing out! I found this game before my school went 1:1. Most of my students do not have internet access outside of school. Few of them have working cell phones, let alone smart phones. Activities that require them to use technology used to be a constant issue in my room. They love to scan QR codes for scavenger hunts and task cards, and while they are very respectful and careful when they use my iPhone, one phone isn’t enough to keep things moving. With classes only forty minutes long, that is a huge problem. Enter Plickers. The only technology needed is one smart phone. I create multiple choice or true/false questions on the Plickers site and then run the game through an app on my iPhone. Each student is assigned a numbered Plicker card. I printed the cards and each student glued their card onto the inside back cover of their notebook. Now we don’t lose any time while they search for their cards. So handy!


The last of our startup foldables also goes on the inside of the back cover. For varied reasons, my students have poor basic math skills. I have a number line on the classroom wall, but that doesn’t help them when they are at home. For reference, we glue a number line inside the back cover of our notebooks. Sarah Carter of Math = Love created both a vertical and a horizontal number line foldable. I used the vertical number line two years ago, and my students had a hard time with the new orientation. She recently added the horizontal one and that works much better for us. As you can see, we glue it at the top of the inside back cover. When we need it, it folds out and can be seen and used from any page. Brilliant! See more information here.




So there you have it. A quick, easy startup for any math notebook. This year I will be adding Math 8 to my schedule and plan to use these pages for those notebooks too, changing the Algebra Reference Sheet to the Math 8 Reference Sheet. You can find a copy here. Need a Reference Sheet for a different grade? Find them here.

What are your go to startup pages? I would love to see them so please share!













This post is written in response to Michael Barbour’s blog post Examining Generational Differences.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 6.50.51 PM

I can remember one of my undergraduate teachers telling the class that Sesame Street changed education. Gone were the days of long lectures and practice on reading, writing and arithmetic. Children were spending hours watching shows like The Electric Company and Sesame Street, shows that offered information in bite-sized chunks, almost like commercials. Because children had changed, schools needed to change too. Students required teachers to offer information in, you guessed it, small bite-sized chunks, the better to accommodate their now shortened attention spans. Fast forward to today, and schools are again being told to change because students today are, again, different. But are they really?

Marc Prensky, the author of “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” believes they are. He has written several books about how best to teach digital natives, and the issues involved when the teachers are immigrants to this strange new world. The quote below has taken on heraldic proportions, being used by professors and students alike. It’s a great sound bite, but is it true?


Dr. Jamie McKenzie doesn’t think so. In a thorough rebuttal of Prensky’s article, (found here), McKenzie refutes almost everything in it with references and data, both items that he accuses Prensky of lacking. Unfortunately, McKenzie’s presentation, to me, is off-putting. I have a hard time hearing his message through all the negativity.

So who is right? When I look in the mirror, is that a digital immigrant looking back at me? What about my students? The poverty rate in my classroom is very high, leaving most with little or no access to today’s technology outside of school. Are they still considered digital natives? Last year, I had to teach a large percentage of my students how to use email. Most have no idea how to search Google effectively. Does that change our roles, making me the native and they the immigrants? I’m not sure any of us can be pigeon-holed into these roles. There are areas in which I am much more tech-savvy than my students. Just like there are areas they can run rings around me. Can you say stereotyping???


Technology, like special education, is a gray area. There are no absolutes, no perfect way to use it that will work for every teacher and every student in every classroom. In fact, what works one day, may well not work at all the next. Teachers need to view technology as a tool and use it accordingly. When the relative advantage of using technology is taken into consideration, you might find that going old-school makes more sense. You will understand this if you insist on your students completing their math homework in a Google Doc. While the opportunity to share with peers and figure out as a group what worked in a problem and what didn’t  is valuable, typing mathematical equations and making them look correct is difficult. For many of my students, the effort is not worth the time and frustration involved. It is so much easier and makes more sense to grab a piece of paper, and everyone sit together and work the problem out. The communication and collaboration are still there. It is just not in a digital format. And that’s ok.




In this guest post, Jennifer Smith of Smith Curriculum and Consulting shares seven fabulous reasons to use Interactive Notebooks in your classroom. Take it away Jennifer!

Hello! My name is Jennifer Smith from Smith Curriculum and Consulting, and I am ECSTATIC to be here with you today! I have been using interactive notebooks in some way, shape, or form for the past eight years and “officially” the correct way since fall of 2010. I have seen so many benefits with the usage of them over the past years, as well as grown and developed as a teacher to better help my students. Currently, I travel around and present not only about the benefits but also about how to implement them while sparking ideas in teachers to help them along their way.

So what is it about interactive notebooks that make them such a hot commodity in education? Why are they such a beneficial tool for students and teachers? What can classrooms and parents gain from their usage?


1. Interactive notebooks teach students to organize and synthesize their thoughts.

By working with students to create a process for them to organize their thinking, you will be able to teach study skills without “teaching” them. Processes build structure, and with use of left- and right-side pages, students will naturally organize their thoughts.

2. Interactive notebooks accommodate multiple learning styles at one time in (and out of) the classroom.

Whether you do teacher input activities as a whole group or as a small group, student output activities give students the ability to show exactly where they are in their understanding of the subject.

3. Student-teacher-parent interaction is built and strengthened with the use of interactive notebooks.

When students are working on homework at home with their interactive notebooks, not only will students be able to use them, but parents will also be able to have a resource into the learning that is taking place in the classroom.

4. Students are building a portfolio that allows for teachers to track growth over time.

Reflections of what students are learning in their output pages (as well as the work shown) will show how they are synthesizing the information learned in class, and as students develop further skills, this will be reflected in their output. These reflections are great to show during parent-teacher conferences and even discuss during student-teacher conferences.



5. Interactive notebooks have students create a resource to use as they continue to extend their learning.

An interactive notebook works as a textbook for students that is theirs. Not only are they taking beneficial notes, practicing, and reflecting on material, but they are also using that information as they work on future activities. Students are going back and reviewing the prior pages repeatedly and therefore building exposure to the material each time.

6. Students take ownership of their learning through color and creativity.

One of the main things that helps students to buy in to the use of interactive notebooks is not the benefits they can see from it but the ability for it to be their own. When students know, and are allowed, to use color in their notebooks, it makes their notes come alive. Using colored paper, markers, colored pencils, etc. makes it easier to sort information and group things together. This creativity also sparks the visual learning when they are expected to remember and apply the information at a later date.

7. Interactive notebooks reduce clutter in the classroom, as well as in students’ lives.

By having students take all of their notes and then also practice and reflect in one location, it allows for them to be organized. Therefore, it eliminates excess papers being lost and misplaced when students would benefit from using them as they learn.

Are you looking into starting interactive notebooks in your classroom? I’ve compiled several of my resources into an Interactive Notebooks Starter Pack to help you get started or even to enhance what you are already doing in your classroom. Just click on the image below to grab your copy today.





I have been an educator since 2003 with experience in elementary school, middle school, and college. Math has been my passion since a young age, which no doubt resulted in my secondary math-teaching career. Currently, I am a Differentiated Curriculum Designer and Presenter traveling the nation to train teachers on the effectiveness of interactive notebooks and differentiation in the classroom. When I am not traveling and training, I live in a Dallas, TX suburb with my three dachshunds and spend time creating resources for my TpT store .


Links are below ⬇️⬇️


Jennifer Smith
Smith Curriculum and Consulting (Coming Soon! Check out during the wait)

Share and Share Alike?

Posted: July 22, 2016 in Uncategorized


I am not a creative person. My amazingly artistic daughter will completely agree with that statement, right Jay?! My mother and grandfather were both artists but me? Nope, that ship sailed without me. My biggest wish is that my mother would have lived long enough to meet her youngest granddaughter, as they would have had so much to talk about. I know she is up there, pumping her fist and yelling “FINALLY!!!!”.

What I can do well, is imitate. I spend hours searching for ideas online, copying them and using them with my students. Some teachers freely share what they do, and many go as far as to put their creations out there for anyone to download and use. Others use sites like Teachers Pay Teachers to sell their materials.

So who has the right answer? I will admit, I love to find free materials that I can use on the web. I mean, who doesn’t right? I even know some teacher authors who upload both the PDF and Publisher version so that I can tweak their creation to make it fit my students better. I love the collaboration that comes from sharing and accepting input to make something better. But is this going above and beyond? Are other professions expected to share their materials with the world at no charge?

I find the backlash against teachers asking to be paid for something they created surprising. Again, I fall back on my artistic daughter. She is a wonderful artist and will happily create art, but she should be paid for her time and effort. Her graphic designs reside in several local restaurants and ski centers. All of them paid her in some way, whether through gift cards, money or scholarships to help her attend college. She is also a musician who both performs and writes her own music. The cd’s she has recorded cost her time, money and much heart and angst. Should she be expected to give this away? As a young and relatively unknown performer, she often does but think about people like Keith Urban, Beyonce or Josh Groban. They expect to be compensated for their work, and they should be. So why do we hold teachers to a different standard?

Megan Hayes-Golding has this to say about teachers sharing materials. You can view the entire post here.

We (MTBos) share freely to help other teachers out, we share freely because we know we get more than we take, we share freely because we understand more users help make a better product.

Lisa Nielsen of The Innovative Educator, shared this tweet during the 2016 ISTE conference:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.41.55 AM

A.J. Juliano holds a different opinion. You can view his entire post here.

If a teacher creates something of value and wants to sell it to another teacher, they should not only be allowed to do so, but also encouraged to do so. Teachers should not be scolded for making “extra money” by developing great lessons, resources, and guides that improve teaching and learning…they should be applauded.

Personally, I have no issues with teachers selling their materials. I have bought and used MANY items on Teachers Pay Teachers and met some wonderful people that I can now proudly call my friends. Many have tweaked something for me to make it better fit my classroom for no extra charge, and several have sent me free materials because they thought I could use them (and no, I did not ask for them, they are all just amazing people who are happy to share as well as sell). As a non-creative but very imitative teacher, I happily exist in both worlds. What say you?

To be or not to be-that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them.

-Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

When Hamlet uttered those words, he could have been referring to homework. Should it be or not be? Is it better to suffer through it or fight against it? Do students get anything out of it? Do teachers?



Studies show that homework has little impact on academic achievement, yet many teachers still assign it. Are we assigning it because we believe it is necessary, or because it’s always been done that way?

I sat down and brainstormed reasons why I might assign homework and reasons why I might choose not to. This is what I came up with.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 4.58.34 PM

Personally? I give homework. Not a lot. Often just a few problems that I want students to try without me. I don’t grade it on correctness but on effort. And we go always go over it together. My student all have IEPs and most test very poorly, especially in math. We talk a lot about responsibility, time management, and knowing our strengths and weaknesses. About how if you know you test poorly, you must have some type of plan to prevent yourself from failing a class. Often that means making sure every grade you can control is as high as possible, to counterbalance those poor test grades.

What is your homework policy?  What would you add to my list?






Interactive notebooks have saved my sanity! I need to send heartfelt thanks to Sarah Carter of Math=Love. Hers was the first blog I found on interactive notebooks and even better, it was about algebra! For the last two years, my students and I have been cutting, folding, writing, gluing and learning as we build our notebooks. It is music to my ears when a student asks me a question and then answers themselves immediately with, “I know, I know. Did you look in your notebook?” I find it less musical when they ask me what page to look on. Um…how about checking the table of contents? Lindsay Perro’s are my go to for this. I use her editable side tab dividers and copy them on brightly colored card stock. Perfect!

So what else is in our notebooks? Here are some of our favorites.

My syllabus comes from Sarah, over at Everybody’s a Genius. I love that it’s one page and chunked into small bites of information. My special education students have no trouble understanding it. It’s editable, and as you can see, I’ve tweaked it a bit. I created a QR code (under the pink square). Create your own free code here! The syllabus goes home the first day of school, and when it comes back with signatures we glue it in our notebooks!

Looking for a great idea for the Real Number System? My favorite is from Chris at A Sea of Math. She found it here and then added her own spin to it. This is one foldable that we use regularly!

If you can time your lesson on And/Or Inequalities to coincide with Halloween, this foldable might fit the bill. The bat template was created by Jennifer Smith of Smith Curriculum and Consulting and can be purchased from her store on Teachers Pay Teachers. One of her readers, Jessica Cleeton, added the Inequality information (the original template is blank). This foldable is my students’ absolute favorite so far. Thanks go out to Jennifer too, for not only her great resources but her willingness to answer my questions. She has gone above and beyond to help me. Check out her blog 4mula Fun, for lots of great ideas!

Do your students struggle with finding domain and range as much as mine do? I’ve tried boxing in the graph and highlighting around it, but this little foldable has helped the most. The biggest problem I see is that when they are looking for the domain, they want to highlight around the x-axis instead of crossing it, so they end up getting domain and range confused. T. Haley, at Journal Wizard, apparently had the same problem. While the concept is similar to highlighting, the words to keep us on the right track are brilliant!

I added the infinities on the inside for a little extra help. The domain and range cards were created in Desmos and then I took screenshots of each graph. You can download them here. Remember to add arrows as you like to each graph. The cute little envelope was originally created by Kathryn of i is a number. Sarah Hagan of Math=Love resized it to fit the cards. Her envelope can be found here (scroll about halfway down the page).

Ah, functions… Anyone else’s students try to include the f(x) when they simplify, thereby turning it into some demented-looking equation? This foldable won’t help with that, (will anything?? Seriously. Let me know!), but it will help students understand where to find the x-value. Kathryn Freed, of Restructuring Algebra,  tweeted about her creation and one of her students told her to blog about it. So she did. Here.

I love Scaffolded Math and Science’s stuff. All of it. Choosing one to put on this page is a challenge. We both teach algebra to special education students, so her materials fit my classroom like they were made for it. Her Difference of Squares foldable (she calls them flippables) from Factoring Flippables was a huge hit. Everything we needed to successfully factor the difference of two perfect squares was right at our fingertips. She has many more great materials on her website and in her store. Check her out!

Need a foldable for the coordinate plane? I use Jennifer Smith of Smith Curriculum & Consulting’s Ordered Pairs and Graphing Flippable . It’s easy to read and understand and has everything on it that I need.

My last two must-haves are both from Sarah Carter of Math=Love. The first is a graphic of a TI-84 graphing calculator. I am firmly in the camp that teaches calculator skills to our students. Each skill gets its own page, complete with a calculator and step-by-step directions. You can find the link to download one here (two on a page) or here (three on a page, link is in the last comment). Need an Inspire? Check out the fourth comment.

The small screenshots are my own, created courtesy of the TI-Smartview program I won at the state math conference last fall. If you don’t have this program, I highly recommend it. Shout out to my TI rep Dana Morse. Couldn’t ask for a better one. He’s amazing.

My students figure out slope by using a number line. The old Integrated Algebra Regents exam had the slope formula included on the reference page. The new Common Core exam does not. Knowing my students are not going to remember a formula like this, I stopped using it. They are very good at figuring out how far apart two numbers are using a number line. Without one? Not so much. Enter Sarah Carter’s number line foldable. I tried the vertical version two years ago, and the orientation completely confused my students. This year she added a horizontal version. Thanks, Sarah! Find her post and the link to both versions here.

So there you have it. McLeod’s Crowd’s favorite foldables. What are your go to foldables?




So you’ve decided to try interactive notebooks with your students. Great! But now what? Here are some thoughts to get you started…


Must Have

  • Notebooks – I prefer composition books because the pages don’t fall out.
  • Colored paper – the brighter, the better
  • Glue – your choice here, my preference is glue sticks. They cause fewer headaches.
  • Tape – for those students who will refuse to use glue
  • Scissors – everyone needs a pair
  • Markers/Colored Pencils/ Highlighters


  • Big rubber band – we put them through a hole punched in the back of our notebooks and use them to keep them closed and secure.
  • Ribbon – stapled to back of notebook and used as a bookmark
  • Document Camera/Projector – I build mine with the class under the document camera so everyone can see what they need to do.
  • Flair Pens – these colored felt tip pens are my favorite
  • Tabs – some way to mark the start of a new unit so it is easily found


  • Organize your supplies. I have a different plastic container for everything and they sit on the filing cabinets in the back of the room.
  • Decide how you want to set up your notebooks. Often the right side is for foldables and notes, and the left side is for students to process their learning, but do whatever works best for you and your students.
  • Where do get your foldables? If you are uber-creative, you can make your own. I’m not so I do a lot of searching online. Just google whatever topic you need and add the word foldable at the end. If you click on the images link on Google, you can scroll through the pictures pretty quickly. I also use the same type of search in Pinterest.
  • Make students write. While the foldables that are already filled out are easier, I find students retain the information much better when they have to write the words.
  • Once you choose a foldable, build it before you teach it! My most spectacular failures have been when I found something cool right before class and tried to run with it.
  • Build your own notebook with your students. I have created mine under the document camera so everyone can see what I am doing, but if my class is really small, I have also pushed the desks together and sat in a group to build them. Not only will you have a notebook to refer to next year, but you become part of the class when you join your students. The best conversations happen when we are all at the same level.
  • Create a table of contents for each unit and mark that page with a tab so it is easy to find. My students found a full table of contents at the beginning of each notebook too overwhelming.
  • Make extra copies!! Someone will cut something wrong, despite your repeated explanations. My favorite?  Don’t cut the tabs off your table of contents foldable. Someone does, every single time.
  • Make your copies the right size. The magic number for composition notebooks is 85%. Reduce a full-size foldable to 85% and it will fit perfectly.
  • Take a couple of minutes at the end of the day and jot down notes on a Post-It and put it right in your notebook to refer to next year. Did something work really well? Or not at all? An idea to make it even better? Write it down. Trust me; you won’t remember next year until you are halfway through the lesson.
  • Make your students use their notebooks. Every time a student asks me a question about something they have a foldable for, I tell them to look in their notebook.
  • Don’t assume students will understand how to use their notebooks. Model it! I refer to mine during every class and talk my way through finding the resource I need. Then model actually using the foldable.
  • Check their notebooks! Create a quick rubric or find one online. USE IT!! I admit, I get lazy and don’t check them often enough. If I let them use their notebooks on a test, I end up spending hours helping kids rebuild their entire notebooks the week before. My goal is to check them at the end of each unit.
  • Plan for absent students. I have a crate with folders for each day of the month. Extra copies are filed in the folder on the date they were handed out. Students must come in on their own time and use my notebook to complete the foldable they missed. I also take pictures of every page and upload them to our Google Classroom page. I never let my notebook leave my classroom!
  • Save your scrap paper. I toss mine in a basket, and we use the pieces if we want to add emphasis to something or if I have them create their own foldable.