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Five Reasons To Use Physical Notebooks In Your Digital Classroom

Notebook about Graphs

When I think back to what I remember learning about most in school, I think about faults in 6th grade and genetics in high school. Those two topics had something in common – both teachers drew everything and actually taught in class. I wasn’t overwhelmed by how many words I had to read or feeling like I had to rush because the teacher was going to move on to the next slide too quickly. 

When I realized this, I quickly implemented interactive notebooks in my middle school classes. My students draw, write, listen, and use color when they learn something new.  Of course we do other things but when it comes down to what I want them to put in their notebooks, we draw. 

And then school shut down.

Chart showing eye color and dominance of the trait

Then COVID hit and my classes went completely virtual. Suddenly I felt swamped and overwhelmed by so many digital notebook options. I love tech, and constantly implement it in my classroom, but I chose to continue using my interactive notebooks as normal – drawing and writing. It was totally possible and effective with my laptop and a doc cam.

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These are five reasons you should definitely use physical interactive notebooks in your digital classroom!

1. They take no prep time! 

I made so many Powerpoints my first few years of teaching, spending at least an hour (if not more) on the most perfect slides. Then I’d spend all day teaching that same Powerpoint. When I use an interactive notebook to draw and write, I spend almost zero prep time because I teach live with students. 

2. Students are more likely to follow along (and understand). 

When you create notebooks with students, you’re writing and drawing with them. You emphasize what is important by how you lay out your notebook. Adding small drawings or diagrams creates another layer of understanding when they reference their notes. Which students will really draw pictures you add to a Powerpoint?? I don’t think so. 

When I use notebooks with students in my classroom, I like using the Crayola Super Tip Markers. I leave a bunch in a bin on my counter and kids are allowed to grab 3-4 while taking notes. Plus I use them. They don’t bleed and you don’t have to battle with kids at the pencil sharpener! Obviously this doesn’t work if students are digital, but there’s no reason you can’t use notebooks in an actual classroom!

3. Students are so tactile. 

A physical notebook gives students something they can touch! While digital options are awesome and only getting better, a paper interactive notebook is something they can pick up, open, and flip through. Since it’s not on a screen (that they’re probably sharing with 5 other tabs), they can access it easier.

4. Drawing and writing help students process and learn information differently. 

Did you know drawing actually makes you remember something better? The way your brain processes information through the movement increases memory! 

5. It works! 

A couple years ago, my previous years 7th graders went on their 8th grade trip to California. One of the chaperones came back and said he was so impressed – the kids answered all the instructors questions and even offered up more information about tides. When he asked the students where they learned so much, they responded, “Miss H’s class last year.” WHAT?! Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to hear that? Why do I think they remembered? Because we drew it in our interactive notebooks! As we talked about it, we drew it. They actively participated! 

Notes comparing independent and dependent variables using plants and different amounts of salt water.

I’m a huge fan of interactive notebooks. When we went digital, I panicked for a minute. I wasn’t sure what to do. But then I realized all these amazing reasons why paper notebooks are so great!  Not an artist? No problem. Just give it a shot. I always tell my students, “This is not an art project.” Your student will take your lead and try their best too. 

One more thing. Don’t think I’m over here ragging on digital interactive notebooks. I love them! They are great tools and definitely have a place in the digital classroom. I just don’t want you to forget a super awesome low tech tool you have at your fingertips. 

Digital Learning, Middle School, Notebooks, Uncategorized

How to Teach Variables to Middle School Students

I hope this is one of the first posts you landed on in your search for how to teach variables to middle schoolers. Seriously. I really do.

If you’ve been following me for more than a minute, you’ll remember I walked into an empty classroom my first year teaching. No resources, supplies, or curriculum. When I started teaching scientific inquiry, I stopped pretty quickly! I was overwhelmed. None of what I Googled made any sense! 

Research… and more research

Teaching scientific inquiry is simple, yet complicated. As a new middle school teacher using Google and Pinterest to find content, I was struggling.  

Don’t get me wrong, I could find all of the worksheets and all of the resources where students had to identify variables in a specific scenario, but I could not find a definition simple enough to understand and communicate well.  

I swear I clicked on every link. I did my best to create a definition that mostly made sense and taught it. My students were SO confused. And like any good teacher, I researched more and retaught it. They were even more confused! To be honest, I confused myself too! 

And then it clicked!

Clearly I was doing something wrong. Until one day, it clicked! I totally got it. Not only that, I could turn it into language my middle school students understood. 

I remember my principal at the time calling me on a weeknight. It was dinnertime. Of course I answered, albeit nervously. The conversation went like this: 

“Kel. My son is in 7th grade, and I can’t figure out how to help him with his science homework… what is the difference between an independent and a dependent variable?!” 

“An independent variable is the one thing the scientist changes in the experiment. The dependent variable is what the scientist measures. It’s what happens because of the change.” 

“Are you kidding me?! I have been googling for 30 minutes. I even called the other science teacher first! You’re a lifesaver.” 

I will admit, I was pretty dang proud of myself! This concept is SO important to the inquiry process! To create any kind of investigation, students need to truly know the difference between the two. 

Over the course of several years, how I teach independent and dependent variables to my middle school science class has morphed a little bit. 

Here’s my real secret. 

Students are visual. They remember things better when they see them! Give them a visual clue that makes sense. 

Independent Variable

I use a picture of a wizard. Why? The independent variable is what the scientist changes. Nothing in a storyline with a wizard changes until the wizard casts a spell. Same with an experiment. The scientist has to start the change something. 

Dependent Variable

Think about a ruler. The dependent variable is what the scientist measures. Since rulers are a measuring tool, this visual helps students remember they have to identify what results they’re going to measure. 

Control Variables

Twins. So easy. Control variables are all the things in the experiment the scientist needs to keep the same between the control and experimental groups. Twins look the same. All of the variables in their experiment need to look the same too.

Teaching science inquiry doesn’t always have to be complex! These definitions are simple enough to resonate with your middle school students. Yet they’re also clear and applicable to almost every scenario or experiment you can give them. 

Are you struggling with how to teach this? I get it. I was there! My goal for writing this was to give you language to to teach something complicated to your middle school students (and hopefully save you hours of research!)

Looking for a resource that helps you teach and practice with your students? Check this out!

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Middle School, Notebooks, Scientific Inquiry

Teaching Observations and Inference in Science

I love middle school. But they think so quickly that they don’t necessarily think about what they are thinking! In science specifically, they have to know the difference between an observation and an inference. Their observations lead to their inferences and generally serve as evidence for their inferences.

To introduce this idea, I give them that “angry teacher” stance and eyes and ask them how I am feeling. Without fail, they tell me that I’m mad, angry, upset, that they want to run away and hide (HAHA!!)… and a few will say my arms are crossed or I’m not smiling, but usually not without some prompting asking them how they know I’m angry.

They can tell you clearly that I’m upset, but I need them to break it down and use their observations as evidence for their inferences.  Read More »

Hands On, Middle School, Notebooks