Last year I rattled through some frequently asked questions.

People point to me as a user of interactive notebooks. I would not call my notebooks interactive in the same category as what the internet considers an interactive notebook. If you're looking for foldables, tables of contents, and scripted notebook pages, please go check out Sarah Hagan. She even had a whole day celebrating her.

Anyway, this is what I do to get students to do stuff. Time for bullet points!


Here's some pictures. I'll do a little explaining after.


  • composition books preferred, hold up better over time
  • students can keep them in the room, I use a 30 qt. tub for each class
  • colored duct tape identifies the class period
  • a manilla folder fragment stapled to the back holds old tests
  • students track their SBG scores in the front, it's not a table of contents


  • students use it every day, no questions
  • all classwork and notes are contained in the book
  • from time to time work is pre-typed and handed out on 1/3 or 1/2 sheets
  • students do a lot of work copied from the board
  • students don't have homework, they work when they are in class
  • students can use their books on tests, tests are designed to be about thinking, not parroting, we don't do review days
  • class time is intended to provide as much student time as possible, stop talking
  • books are checked every 3 weeks for updated SBG charts and cleanliness
  • students can put things wherever they want
  • assignments are graded a day or so after completion, I walk around with a clipboard while students are working on something newer
  • it takes time to cut things out and glue, I mean, just accept it
  • I never take them home
  • kids forget them, it happens, usually not a chronic issue

Critics of the notebook thing dislike the time required for the cutting, taping, gluing, and preparation. They'd prefer a binder full of daily worksheets or something. Mine don't suffer those issues. I don't find myself spending an inordinate amount of time waiting on kids to do stuff. Of course, I've set up class to be for them. You don't see me talking much. Assignments are short and sweet so they can do all the cutting and still accomplish something. I'm allergic to full page handouts. Over time it's just so much paper. That volume of copying is just unnecessary to me. Same with packets. Yuck. One year I'm going to count how little I copy as proof.

After five years with these things I'd never do binders or folders, ever. Student productivity is at ridiculous levels since I made it a requirement.

AuthorJonathan Claydon
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Last semester I gave a nifty test question. Students had to reason through whether something I presented them is valid using a combination of things we have talked about. Some of them followed the lines of thinking I intended and a few went beyond my expectations.

A similar thing happened recently. Last year in my Algebra II revamp I wanted to put more emphasis on the purpose of graphs. My current Pre Cal group didn't necessarily get that connection during their Algebra II experience. Early early on I brought it up as we began with quadratics. Now that it was time for trig equations I brought it up again. Why would trig equations have a series of repeatable solutions?

I had them hack it out via Desmos first:

I gave them some equations and showed them how to plot it. They jotted down a ton of the solutions and I asked if they noticed anything. Hoping they caught on to the presence of a pattern, even if they didn't necessarily know what was causing it.

Anyway, we spent some time solving trig equations algebraically, representing the solutions as a multiple of the period. Some of that was on the test. But then I threw this at them.

The expected process would involve taking the equation given, solving it algebraically, and seeing if the intersection points in the picture appear. Simple.

A few demonstrated some great understanding of trig functions. In this particular example, the student solved the equation, noted the presence of an intersection point and agreed. But, BUT. Do you see the part where they verified that the GRAPH itself makes sense, that the presence of an intersection point might not tell the whole story? I mean, I had to stop for a second. This was so great.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Soon after I introduced notebooks, my classes started getting bigger. Testing started to become a challenge. Long ago I'd make them physically separate a bit, but now it's impossible. I tried the folder blinder thing. And still, the determined would try to deceive me. Different test versions have had the most success. But I'm trying to remove the motivations as much as possible.

In the spring of 2013 I said forget it, they put so much effort into these notebooks anyway, let's make them available on the test. Day one of school last year I mentioned this policy, with much excitement, naturally.

It felt appropriate in academic level classes. These students needed a little more support. I want to reinforce good habits like keeping a worthwhile notebook. It helped me prove a point when I could draw correlations between the state of someone's notebook and their performance. They usually weren't doing the classwork anyway.

Fast forward to now and I've got PreAP Pre Calculus. A lot of people hold up Pre AP as this sacred thing. We don't mess around in here, mounds of homework, and the highest of high stakes on tests. Again faced with students on top of one another I said you know, if I make enough versions (three each time) I'm ok just making them all open notes.

You might see that as a cop out. But it actually affords a lot of unique opportunities. For one, we don't review for tests. Straight up, no. I announce the date some days in advance and I might mention the list of topics. But there's no scripted review.

The content of my tests has changed as well. A lot of the sections model things we've done in class, but each and every time there's something in there that can't be copied.

And in the end, everyone in there did ridiculously well. Over half got an A for the semester. That might sound wrong and unnatural, but aren't the kids supposed to feel like they learn something rather than satisfy a normal bell-curve of grade distribution?

AuthorJonathan Claydon
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In January 2011, I tried something crazy. It's now a local phenomenon.

I had a mind blowing meeting with a group of middle school teachers a couple weeks ago. A group ready to change just about everything they do regarding student work management and assessment. Not just ready, but determined.

I began to seriously look at my assessment practices almost four years ago. Really, it was a time concern. I spent my first year giving big unit tests and grading homework and all that stuff they say you're supposed to do and found it incompatible with the demands on my time from coaching. By accident, I wandered into SBG, notebooks and all that. Three years ago, I started sharing my successes with my math department. Two years ago, many of them were ready to try it.

And now, years after a secret experiment, SBG and notebooks is the majority practice at all levels of math in my school, Algebra 1 to Calculus. We've all implemented it differently, PreAP is excluded for the most part (though not mine), our notebook management systems are varied, and I will say that not everyone may experience the same altering side effects I did, but we made a change.

Even crazier, in just a handful of meetings, an entire middle school hopped on board because many of my colleagues had experienced such positive results and testified as much to them. At some distant point in the future, there's a kid who will graduate having spent their 6th - 12th math career judged by how they show growth.

Challenges remain:

  • SBG is no bandaid for bad lessons, learning to be interesting is a whole other hurdle
  • this middle school is in uncharted territory, with no one specifically on campus who has implemented this stuff before
  • our Algebra 1 team is trying SBG, notebooks, AND a tweaked curriculum, there will be kinks, but my role this year is their direct line of support
  • new teachers are always a tough sell, never getting the full philosophy behind the move or experiencing the classroom challenges that lead to this stuff in the first place
  • SBG and notebooks can't be forced as a matter of policy, it will guarantee half-hearted implementation, each teacher needs the eureka moment, and that may never come

We aren't perfect. It is not math department heaven on earth. Simple requiring a student to have a notebook does not mean you will have 100% engagement. Implementing SBG will not guarantee you have a 0% failure rate or that kids will achieve that understanding they've seemed to be missing.

The point of this is to say that change is possible. Change at scale is possible. And it happened organically. Our district did not mandate any of these policies. There is a ton of work to do. But the fact that we even have these discussions locally without anyone thinking I'm a crazy person is important.

If you have great practices that are working for you, you don't have to be the lone voice in the wilderness. Student results speak for themselves. Chances are there's a teacher in your district who wish things could be better but doesn't know where to start. Show them what to do. Share everything. And slowly, you can convince a lot of people to step back at their current methods and ask "why?"

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Assessments are an experimental playground for me. The frequent assessment I do under an SBG system really helps make them a feedback tool rather than the scary do or die moment like the tests I used to take. And yet, despite all of the retesting option i build into my system, all the stress I put on learning from your mistakes, I still have students who resort to cheating. With plenty of their other classes sticking with do or die tests, I suppose it's a natural response.

Iterative Solution

I have tried all kinds of solutions. I versioned the test (in some cases up to 4, which is a PAIN to write and grade). I spread them out. I got a bunch of manilla folders to set up as blinders. And still, I'd catch a few. Simultaneously I've spent a few years experimenting with group tests. At first I had four people submit one paper. Then it was four copies of the same test where collaboration was allowed. Then (after it became apparent that this just invited super blatant copying in rare cases), I said ok, you can work with each other, but there were different versions of the test within a group (rather than group A all getting version A, group B gets B, etc). And finally, by the end of Spring 2013, every test was either a group effort or notebook w/ whispering allowed. 

Flash forward to the Interactive Notebook session at TMC13, and none other than @cheesemonkeySF says that her notebooks are allowed on quizzes. Like, all of them. Many others nodded in agreement. At that point I was sold. This year, I still version tests (just two, not three or four like I had been)  but hey, use your notes. Use your old tests. No talking to your neighbor or anything (I still hear a few idle whispers but whatevs), but use all the reference material you have.



You might freak at this violation of test purity. But hear me out. All that classwork you do? Valuable. Knowing how to navigate your notebook? Valuable. Reading feedback from a prior test? Valuable.

Fewer students freak out on me. Shoot, a good 30% take the test with the notebook closed anyway. A small minority leave a section blank (5% or less). I get a chance to see what my students are fully capable of AND see them make use of my feedback. It's encouraged me to be more detailed with my feedback now that I know they'll turn to it. I also dictate how certain answers should be written and not have to worry about posting the phrasing somewhere during the test. Write it down or bust, kid.

In Algebra II (a group of students who blow my mind daily with their "ok, when exactly does this get difficult, dude?"), they don't even want to review. I try. They refuse. Seriously, when posed "you want to talk about things?" "Nah, we're good. Get on with it, man." First year me would be so confused. 

BUT IT DOESN'T PREPARE THEM FOR COLLEGE! A 200 person college math course? You're probably right. Sophomore, Junior, and Senior level courses of the STEM variety? Totally. You live and die by your professor sanctioned formula sheets. 

AuthorJonathan Claydon
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Just about a year ago, I gathered my thoughts and samples into The $1 Textbook, an outline of notebooks and their importance in my classroom. During the 2011-12 school year, I began the year with notebooks and by the second semester had found a way to adapt my planning to incoporate them. For 2012-13, I set out to make every assignment notebook compatible, seek out more group projects, and incorporate the notebook better into the way I present material. Last year was heavy on philosophy, this year I'm back to focus on implementation, impact, and iteration.

What I hope you take away from this is that a simple idea completely changed everything about how I conduct class, from student expectations to my own lesson planning expectations.

Some hours after this was posted on June 11, I teamed up with James Cleveland and Megan Hayes-Golding to present multiple ways of using notebooks for math class. Interactive Notebook Ideas is available as a replay from Global Math Department.


My interest in notebooks began in 2010, and was amplified by Standards Based Grading. SBG necessitates a way for students to track their grades to have the proper impact. A cheap and efficient way for them to do this is in the front of a notebook. It's large enough they won't lose it, and creates a bit of ownership because I'm not having them fill something out I made. As long as they're doing that, there have to be creative ways to exploit all that extra paper they've now got with them.

My specifications for notebooks:

  • composition notebooks work great, they consistently last an entire school year, but are not explicitly required
  • the first two pages of the notebook are for tracking assessments, all students are required to do this
  • all handouts go in the notebook via staples, tape, or glue
  • all class work is to be completed in the notebook
  • all data tables for group work are to be in the notebook
  • students may change notebooks at semester or in the event they lose it
  • students may store the notebook in the room at all times if they choose
  • assessments can be kept in the notebook, but was not required

 How I support my specifications:

  • two notebooks per class period are raffled off at the start of the school year
  • three staplers, two tape dispensers, 30 safety scissors, and 30 glue sticks are always at the front of the room
  • buckets are provided for storage and labeled by class period
  • SBG charts are worth 10%, group work 10%, and class work 20%
  • explicit class time is used to begin SBG charts at the start of each semester, this lasts through Test 3
  • SBG charts are checked every 3 weeks
  • all handouts are small enough to fit in a composition notebook, 1/2 sheets or 1/3 sheets
  • all handouts are titled with the matching SBG topic name as best as possible
  • class work is graded by quick inspection and marking grades on a clipboard       
    • class work is just that, work done in class, doing work at home is not required, though my methods are not incompatible with homework
    • typical class work grades are 0, 50, 70, 80, 90, 100; not much nitpicking is done
    • class work is checked for completion, not accuracy
    • class work is reviewed as a group to check for understanding, students are responsible for giving themselves feedback on it
    • class work is sometimes checked in batches "show me work from today and yesterday please"
    • class work is not necessarily graded 
  • random "notebook health inspections" are conducted to catch students who are being lazy about taping/gluing/stapling
  • work presented as a poster has been done previously or simultaneously in the notebook

 Other than some students being critical of my ability to cut 1/2 sheets and 1/3 sheets, this structure works pretty well. I don't grade every bit of class work because I don't want grades to be their sole motivation for getting it done. I check often enough to keep them thinking about it but not necessarily be fearful. From time to time in Algebra II I will do a bit of a crackdown if a class is being bad about completing their work. It varies every grading period but if I give out 8 assignments I might check 4.

From time to time a student will claim their notebook was stolen. It's almost always at the bottom of the wrong classes bucket. Maybe 2 out of 150 will legitimately disappear during a school year.


I conducted quickie exit interviews of all my Algebra II students to gauge their opinions on some things. Algebra II is a great group to ask because the age and skill rnages are huge. First, I had them rate their ability to keep up with the notebook on a scale of 1 to 10. Students typically grade themselves harshly, and 7/10 was the most common. Only a couple said 10 (and I agreed) with a sprinkle of 8s and 9s. The followup related to being required to keep the notebook. Would they have kept their class work organized if not given a structure to do so? Easily half (~30) said no. Others said they would, but it wouldn't be quite as organized, they'd have a folder with all their papers in it or something. All students rated the notebook as a reliable resource, but I'm not sure I asked that question well enough (it was a bit leading). Any volunteers to help me create a double blind survey?

There are two big takeaways from interviewing these students. One, organizational structure is not intuitive. As teachers, our experience is often a trap. We've been organized indiviuals for decades, so the solutions are obvious. We forget what it's like to be 15/16/17. You learned important lessons in organization from SOMEONE. Hey, now you're that someone. Teach before you expect. Second, 60 students rated their ability to adhere to a dictated structure at 6/10 or higher. All 60 of them are not A students. Many of them were C/D students. But were it not for this organizational intervention, how many of them are your D/F students who never write anything down and lose everything they're given? A simple little notebook can create a dramatic difference in the performance you get from students. The top will always be the top, the middle raises their game, and the bottom isn't so bottom anymore.

Professionally, I am forced to consider the notebook as a resource when planning my lessons. Assignments got shorter and more focused to fit the size constraints. I wasted a lot less copier paper. Matching activities are easier to implement because they could be relevant portions of notes, not lost in a folder or in the trash can. Group activities are no brainers. I'm not creating elaborate data tables and running off 100 copies, I'm sketching out important things to write down and THEY make the data table. I can incoporate reference tables (such as how to identify a hyperbola vs. an ellipse) into my presentations and feel like it will get used. I quit wasting time on test reviews because my assignments ARE the review.


There is always room for improvement. Some considerations for next year:

  • increase the size of the notebook buckets, it got a tad cluttered
  • a lot of students admitted they did not reflect much on the SBG sheets
  • a backup of SBG scores need to be kept by me somewhere
  • tests need to be kept in a makeshift pocket in the notebook
  • be a little more critical of class work completion
  • keep a stockpile of spares, a few students lingered for months under the pretense of buying new notebooks

Overall, I love the effect of notebooks. It sets a tone that work is expected from students every day, they are accountable for that work, and that work is there to help them in the future. And there's no way they can argue we never do anything, there are 30 kids keeping records of what we do.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

Last year on a bit of a whim I decided to take some problem sets and turn them into poster projects. It worked well the first time and it was something I tried to do once a grading period in both of my preps. I liked it so much the tradition continued this year. But I've started to raise the demands. Usually they served as the single exposure to a task. So, say we're doing hyperbolas. We'll talk about the process, I'll graph a couple examples, maybe have them try one or something. Their assignment is a poster since hyperbolas are all nice and crazy looking. Each kid would do two graphs (I'd pair it with an ellipse or something). The side effect, however, is that exposure was pretty minimal. I would then assess them after only have them struggle with one, and typically if they were a struggler they got a neighbor to do most of it for them. Natural shocker, struggles really didn't know what was going on when it came for testing.

I modified two parts of my procedure to deal with this. First, I try to reserve posters as supplemental. So instead of doing a minimal-exposure activity within 10 minutes of learning something, it will usually follow after the skill has been assessed once and I've had time to digest and comment on their mistakes. It reduces mistakes on the more public poster. Second, I increased the workload on the students. Normally, a group of six would be given 12 problems and asked to graph 2 of them. Most recently in Algebra II, the whole set was required of everyone and I would change my phrasing to say "choose two that you will present." Basically, do everything, but two of them you'll have to recopy and do an additional task (paragraph writing, higher fidelty graph, etc). I think it's improving retention which is raising the competency I see on first assessments.

I also expanded beyond the poster concept and just made a giant wall of stuff. Now we have a Conic Wall (first seen here):


Rather than representing the total amount of a student's work on the subject, their work here is just a small sample. This strategy was also employed to improve our polar graphing exploration in Pre Cal. More on that soon. 

AuthorJonathan Claydon

All us crazy math teachers on the internet make use of standards based grading. It is the One True Path. However it is the Minority Path. After successfully field testing the method in my Algebra II and Pre-Cal classes, I got a training together for my math department. It was very well received and was able to get our Math Models team on board for the following semester. It needs a full year of deployment to see the benefits though. I am hoping that this year is a lot more interesting.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago (with some help) I developed a training on the subject for the district as a whole. Not like an all hands meeting, but as a staff development course that went into the pool of summer class options. I was super duper excited when 21 people signed up (including a lot of middle school teachers). For whatever reason, only 9 showed, and most of them were from my school and knew the drill already. However, all was not lost!

We did all the Dan Meyer stuff, discussed our current practices, the detriments of those current practices and the fact that we just deal with them, motivating the need for standards based grading. Combine that with the awesome power of notebooks and it was a compelling package. And you know what? There were results!

There were a lot of wins:

  • An *elementary* teacher found a way to integrate it into her day, most likely substituting a smiley face scale for 0-5, blew my mind
  • A middle school science teacher loved it so much that she borrowed two of my display notebooks and is taking the whole concept to her team *and* principal for adoption this year
  • I am *this* close to getting it adopted in Geometry at my school next year

Based on this, I don't think it's the last time I will be preseting the subject. The next step is getting this idea into the ears of administrators and more importantly, getting more proof of success in real classrooms. That's how an idea gets legs.

So if you are a devoted SBG fan out there and feel like you might be a crazy person, you aren't alone. If you are passionate about the concept, I highly suggest you get some data to show your administrators and organize meetings for your department or district. It might take a while, but awesome don't lie.

AuthorJonathan Claydon

UPDATE 2013: Read More on The $1 Textbook
UPDATE 2014: Read $1 Textbook FAQ

UPDATE 2015: Read No Frills Notebooks

I’ll be upfront and say I’m not a huge fan of textbooks. They try to do too much. Plenty of other people have gone on and on about the problems, so I’ll save some space. Textbooks crafted in a tower far from any real classroom can never fulfill the needs of a real classroom, even these digital ones from the future.

An Algebra Class Uses the iPad from MindShift on Vimeo.

High school students have to be there, the state mandates it. High school students aren’t the biggest fans of math. High school students are guaranteed to lack mastery of something when they walk into your room. If it takes 10,000 hours for absolute mastery and a 15 year old has only been _awake_ 65,000 hours, I doubt they have the absolute mastery you want.

How do we build mastery? How can we encourage students to learn from their mistakes? How can we simultaneously let them work in a way that’s comfortable for them? Highlight the information that’s important to them? Give them opportunities to build a math resource they own, they create, and they value? I tell you there are very very few textbooks I have that I value. And I liked school.


Enter notebooks. I started using them when I switched to Standards Based Grading in January 2011. Part of the system is the kids need to track their progress or it doesn’t really work. When I implemented the system, I had the students all get notebooks to use for the tracking section. The problem was that was about all I was requiring them to do with the notebook. I did see a raised level of note taking but I wasn’t fully integrating them into what I was doing. I still handed out worksheets, collected worksheets, graded worksheets, and watched the worksheets go into the trash.

The Beginning

For the 2011-12 school year, I did standards based grading from the start and required notebooks from the start. In developing my Math Boot Camp I generated quite a few problem sets, most half sheets. I debated whether I should have them turned in and checked as before. But the thought occurred to me, they have all this wonderful paper to work in, why have them complete practice they can’t reference again? From then on, anything and everything that wasn’t a test was condensed to notebook size and expected to be glued/taped/stapled inside.

In the end, a student has a resource that they created, they worked on, and that’s organized in a way that suites them. Some people like math folders where hand outs and such are stuffed in, but it lacks permanence. Loose sheets of paper are easily lost and chronological order is a little tough. Plus as a teacher you’re generating a LOT of copies. For most tasks, I find a full sheet of paper per student to be overkill. Half sheets or third sheets are the perfect size for a notebook and half the copies.

It is not a perfect tool. Some of my students only did the bare minimum, took few notes, kept it messy and full of papers, or randomly scribbled economics notes in them. The goal with notebooks is to elevate the performance of the middle and get the ones at the bottom to do more than nothing. Sometimes all they need is a guiding hand in organization. If I can choose between a messy notebook or a blank desk, I choose messy notebook.


If you want to use notebooks, as a teacher you should: 

  • Require a tracking system at the front for grades, assignments, whatever
  • Require any assignment you have to make use of the notebook
  • Adapt your material to fit inside a notebook
  • Require all assignments to be completed in the notebook
  • Require students to have their notebook every day
  • Require students to be accountable for the material inside


After a while, some pleasant side effects will emerge. Reviewing for tests is easier, posing a question on a topic will send them flipping through the book instead of staring at you blankly. Students will get the sense they did something in your class when they see how full their book is at the end of year. Matching activities and data collection will have a place, no longer glued to some construction paper and lost. Problem sets won’t exist in isolation on some worksheet. Students will have reference material to use while completing an assignment, building a poster, or reviewing a test. Handing out a problem set will send them running for the glue without reminders. More of them will take notes. Empty desk syndrome will be a thing of the past.

If you dedicate yourself to incorporating the notebook, it will work. If the kids understand that the notebook has value, that it counts as part of their grade, and that you expect it to be used, they will. If you give up and stick with worksheets or never look at them, students will figure that out pretty fast.

If mastery is the goal, give the kids a chance to make mistakes, give them a chance to monitor their progress, and give them a reason to value what you’re teaching them.


Below are some examples of real notebooks from my students and the various ways I made use of them:


In the rush to flood the classroom with technology, sometimes analog methods are a beautiful thing.

AuthorJonathan Claydon
17 CommentsPost a comment

At the end of July I'm teaching a class about the joys of standard based grading and the supporting players that make it happen. Throughout the summer all my testing material, poster projects, and such will pop up on here to aid those taking the class. I'm also going to do a big showstopping feature on notebooks and how I make use of them.

For now, enjoy this brief teaser video of me flipping through a few notebooks. Some things to point out:

  • Topic lists and stickers make quick cameos
  • The first notebook is an A+ student, the other two are A-/B+ types
  • My students enjoy doodling, one more than others
  • All three represent an entire year of work, each notebook is about 1/2 to 2/3 full
AuthorJonathan Claydon