Saturday, March 1, 2014

Interactive Math Journals

I can't believe it is March already!  I guess time flies by when you are having fun.  I don't know about you but every year I decide to try a few new things in my classroom.  This year I jumped on the interactive notebook/journal bandwagon in a big way!  I use those words interchangeably but I know some teachers may see them as two different things.  For me an interactive notebook/journal is a place for students to keep notes, practice skills and reflect on what they are learning in class.  I started slow at first with just using an interactive notebook for some of my social studies topics but then when I saw how much the students enjoyed working in their notebooks, I decided I had to use one for  math.  I thought in this post I would share with you some insights and offer you the tops tips that I have learned from incorporating math notebooks/journals into my classroom.  You may like to give them a try in your classroom.  

Tip #1   Buy composition books during the back to school sales at the dollar store.  I bought most of mine at the Dollar Tree while on holiday this past summer.  I stuck them in my suitcase and brought them back to Canada.  Needless to say my husband thought I was a bit crazy! 


Tip #2  Store them in baskets somewhere in your classroom.  I had them in my students' desks the first week and they used to get lost in-between their other supplies.  I only let my notebooks go home the week before a math assessment or if I feel a student will benefit from some extra work on a particular topic.  Students know to bring them back and I have always had them returned.  At our school we give out "Panther Paws" (Our mascot is a panther), which is a paper reward slip that can be entered in a draw for small prizes.  I sometimes reward students who bring back their notebooks with a "Panther Paw" for being so responsible with their school materials.  This little incentive has worked wonders so far.


Tip # 3  Make a pocket to attach to the front or back cover  that can be used to store the sheets or fold-its that do not get completed.  There will always be someone that needs a bit more time.  I used old envelopes that I had in my class and I sealed them, cut an opening in the top and attached them to the front cover.  

Tip #4  White bottle glue is better than a glue stick for attaching paper to the notebooks.  The glue from the glue sticks dries out and the paper then falls out of the notebooks.  Students will need to be shown how to glue.  You wouldn't think that is the case with fifth graders but take it from me they need a bit of instruction. I didn't realize how much glue students put on everything until I started math notebooks. The first few days there was glue going everywhere and I could not believe how many pages became stuck together. Yikes!!  I now love to hear my students using phrases such as, "No toaster strudelling" and "Use baby dots".   Here is a nice poster I found on Pinterest that helps to teach about using glue.

Tip # 5  Set up more than one page at a time.  One of the biggest time wasters I found in the beginning was waiting for students to get everything ready to start making the pages for their notebooks.  It would easily take my class ten minutes at the start of the period to get ready with the needed supplies.  Once everyone has their sheets, scissors, and glue out ready to go make a couple of pages that you will be using over the next couple of days.  For example, I set up all my multiplication pages during Monday's math class and then the rest of my math classes for the week would be spent on completing the different pages.  No glue or scissors needed only a pencil!

Interactive Math Journal for Operations

Tip #6 Make a model interactive journal to show students.  Some students may need a visual model of how the pages fit in the book or how a certain sheet needs to be folded.  Although it may be time consuming in the beginning it will save you so much time in the end because you will not need to repeat instructions over and over to your students.   I am a very visual learner and so are many of my students and the model makes notebooking easier. 

Interactive Math Journal for Place Value

Tip #7  Encourage students to help each other.  I always look for volunteers to help complete the notebooks for students who have been absent or are away on a holiday.  I wouldn't want students to come back and be overwhelmed with trying to cut, fold and glue all the missing pages.  Some students find the pages easier to complete than others and it has been refreshing to see them help their fellow classmates create a notebook that they too can be proud of!

I hope these tips help you if you decide to try using an interactive notebook or journal.  There are so many positive things that have come from introducing this tool into my classroom.  For instance, when I have math workshop and I am busy with a small group I will often see a student go and get their notebook to use as a reference tool instead of coming to find me.  When a parent emails to say they are not sure what we are doing in math I can send home the notebook with the student and it helps the parent to see how we are teaching a particular skill.  This is so important now as many topics such as multiplication are being taught very differently with strategies that parents may not have seen when they were going to school.  I have another student who works with a tutor and the tutor is able to use the notebook as a reference tool and review the skills in the same way as I have shown in class.  

I would love to hear about your experiences with using interactive notebooks/journals.



  1. Good tips! Those journals look fabulous! :)
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  2. Such great tips! We've been struggling with the logistics of our math journals all year. I especially love the pocket for "extras" and the how to glue poster.

  3. I am glad you found the tips helpful. There is definitely a steep learning curve when you first introduce something new into your class. It took me a bit of trial and error to see what works and I am sure I will probably tweak things again for the start of next year. The pocket has been a lifesaver in my class.

  4. Thanks for the tips and all the pictures! I am going to need to jump on that when I get back to big kiddos....doing a major scaled back version with my preschoolers right now.
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