Dueling Titles: Using Interactive Math Notebooks OR Composition Notebook vs Spiral Notebook


Dueling Titles:  Using Interactive Math Notebooks OR Composition Notebook vs Spiral Notebook

. . . the emergence of interactive notebooks (I call it a math journal) in the math classroom has inadvertently created a division, or sorts, among teachers . . . Us vs Them, so to speak.

Who would’ve thought anyone would care either way?

Not me.

Certainly not me ten years ago when I was still fighting the battle of “Where is your homework?” or “Where is your baggy of algebra tiles that we spent all class period cutting out yesterday?” or “Where are the notes you took yesterday in class?  The handout?  The rubric for your project?”  And so on.  You get the picture.

And then . . .

While at a math conference one summer (CAMT), I noticed about 2,000 people (maybe a slight overestimate) in line waiting for a session.  It was nuts.  They had been there for over an hour with another hour to go.  Seriously?  It was like Black Friday without the promise of a $10 Crock-Pot. These people were insane.  And, evidently, had wayyyy too much time on their hands.

So, of course,

I got in line.

Turns out the speaker was Dinah Zike – Queen Mother of the Foldable and all things glue-able.  Now, you need to know that I had never heard of Dinah Zike, but as I entered the room and was handed a packet of colored paper and a pair of scissors . . . I knew this was something different from the traditional “sit and get” workshop.

What an understatement.

I folded.  I cut.  I glued.  It was fabulous.  For those of you who don’t know, Dinah is an organizer of information in practical and logical groupings.  Basically, it’s about taking good notes, but in a visually logical and engaging manner, and then housing them in some sort of notebook . . . a math journal.  And, it was NOT boring.  It was fun.  This was going home with me.

Not to sound like a total nerd.


Incorporating math journals into my classroom changed the way I teach.  From an instructional point of view, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

My students start making their math journals on Day 1 each year, and we use them all year long.  In the past 7 years, I have had exactly 1 student lose his math journal.  It was tragic.  He stayed in during lunch with me for weeks recreating what he lost.

When my students leave me for high school, many take their math journals from my class with them into their high school math classes.  No joke.  They text me illegally from the high school bathroom to tell me they looked up the slope-intercept song or balancing equations by treating variables like crackheads (don’t ask).

You see, the thing about math for a lot of people, including ME . . . is that if you don’t use it, you lose it . . . or, more often, you just need help retrieving the information. Sometimes you just need a quick refresher – often just a word or a phrase or a picture. Our math journals serve that purpose.  They are a self-created “cheat sheet”, if you will.

So, on the first day of school every year – everyone cracks open a new composition notebook and we begin.  It’s exciting, really.  Again  . . . a little nerdy.  But I’m OK with that.

What goes in our math journals, you ask?

All notes.  All handouts.  Math Charts. Foldables. Calendars. Tabs. Expectations. Reminders. Manipulatives. My cell phone number. Websites. Reviews. TEKS. And more.

AND . . . a TABLE OF CONTENTS.  An up to date TABLE OF CONTENTS WITH DATES AND PAGE NUMBERS.  Color-coded.  Mandatory.

For the love of Pythagorus, you must have a table of contents.

The only thing we don’t put in our journals is graded papers/assignments.  Not usually, anyway.  There are no absolutes . . . except for absolute value . . . see what I did there?

I make a math journal as well.  One for each class.  We do it together.  Sometimes I model what I want; sometimes we collaborate on the best ways to organize information.  Often they come up with much better ways than I ever considered.  They can freestyle to some degree, but there are constraints.  The information on their pages must match mine.  Also, when a student is absent – all they have to do is grab my journal to get the notes. Works beautifully.

The journals are huge.  And by huge, I mean ginormously huge.  We keep them fastened together with colored rubber bands or brads.  But you know what?  I’ve never had one break or fall apart.  Ever.

Which leads me to my personal preference in the battle of spiral vs composition notebook.  Drum Roll, please.

Top 5 Reasons Composition Notebooks Totally Rule Over Spirals:

  1. They are more fun to decorate and look way cooler.
  2. Those spiral things always unravel and get caught on stuff.  Drives me nuts.
  3. Paper is just BEGGING to be ripped out of a spiral.  It can’t be prevented.
  4. Composition notebooks are sturdier – thicker covers.
  5. Composition notebooks just make you feel fancy & professional.  You know?

Composition notebooks win.  No contest.  Although . . . I won’t hold it against you if you prefer the spiral.  Well, not much anyway. 🙂

But, really, it doesn’t matter which you choose . . .

frankly, you can use a Big Chief tablet if you want . . .

what really matters is that you find a way to help students organize the information provided to them . . .


So . . . there you have it.  My most innermost thoughts regarding math journals and composition notebooks.  Exciting and world-changing stuff.

Don’t even get me started on stick glue vs liquid glue.  🙂

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