Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Reusable Notebooks

With the new school year approaching I'm looking forward to using the new piece of kit (stationary) that we've added to our teaching arsenal.
At the end of the last school year, Neil from @magicwhiteboard www.magicwhiteboard.co.uk sent me some of their new Mathematics A4 reusable notebooks to have a look at/try out and I loved them. So, I gave one to each member of our department to try out and, having discussed them in a weekly department meeting, decided to get each teacher in the department a class set of them for next year to use how they feel best (mainly because we all had so many ideas as to how to use them and couldn't agree on one single approach).

I thought I'd share our ideas as to how we're planning on using these reusable notebooks as I think they're going to be a great addition to our resources and the magic whiteboard company are currently offering class sets of these books to any primary school that would like them; so what we've come up with may be of interest to our primary colleagues looking to use them too?! For more details on this offer see the news article on the magic whiteboard website here. If you're a secondary school and are interested in looking at some of the books then check out the full range of them here (they've got plain, lined, ruled, maths and even music/manuscript books).

Here are the reusable Mathematics (gridded) books. They are A4 and are 1cm squared inside, which you can see from the ruler in the picture below. There are 8 pages in the book for students to use/reuse.

For each book we've got, we've also got a reusable whiteboard pen. This is the important bit as the ink dries within seconds and then can't be wiped off unless you use the eraser on the end of the pen or use a wipe (or just rub really hard). This means the ink stays on the page when you shut the notebook or lean on it, etc. You probably know what it's like when students use 'normal' whiteboards...they often end up wiping off what they've written on it (or their peer does it for them) and the whiteboard pens rub straight off when the ink is touched. With the reusable pens you don't have this problem.
This fact also means that the notebooks can be used over and over again and as long as the students treat the books well, can be wiped once used/when needed and given to others to use - for the next class (if using with a particular class for a certain project during a half term and then swapping, for next year's class(es), etc).

In this picture you can see the inside of the Mathematics (gridded) notebooks and the ruler to show the scale of the grid (1 cm squared). When Neil was creating the books he sought advice on what size grid to use for the books and I suggested that a 1 cm squared grid would be good to use as students can use these for accurate drawings of shapes to work out perimeters and areas, etc. We currently use A4 1 cm squared exercise books with our KS3 students and they're use to using these in the lower part of the school before moving to smaller exercise books in KS4.

Initial ideas...

As I mentioned above, we had a [brief] discussion in a weekly meeting about the notebooks and how best to use them. Initially, we spoke about using the books with a particular year group, potentially Y7 as we could 'train' them into how we wanted them to use them and it would then become part of our/their classroom routine. We also thought about using them with our [to be] Y9 students as they start their 3-year GCSE course and getting them to use the books throughout their Mathematics GCSEs. These are all ideas that are still up in the air and may well be what we use the books for in the future. However, we then had other ideas as to how the books could be used - to not restrict the use of them to a single year group and use them either with a specific class in our chosen year group (based on teachers' classes/timetable), or just as a 'general' resource for all a teacher's classes. So, as there were so many ideas floating around the table, we'll each have a class set to use for the first half term/term as we choose, before having another discussion as to how they've been used and how best to continue to get the most out of them - we'll also be able to discuss any teething problems with the use of the notebooks once the students have got their hands on them! I basically want everyone in our department to be able to use these resources, rather than restricting them to be used with a particular year group, which some members may not teach, therefore they don't get to see what benefits they could have with the students learning and our teaching of Mathematics.

The ideas we'll therefore be trying:

  1. When using the notebooks with a specific class, to get students to split the book up into different sections. There are 8 pages so 1 suggestion was to split them in a way such that they would have a page for each area of Mathematics: Number, Algebra, Shape, Space and Measure and Data Handling (this may need to be tweaked for the new GCSE as there is a greater emphasis on Ratio and Proportionality), a couple of pages for rough 'workings' and then the other 2 pages to be used in an 'ad-hoc' fashion as needed - for example with spelling tests at points in our KS3 schemes of work when key vocab needs covering (something our school is introducing across all subjects). The different areas of Mathematics pages would be kept and updated by students with key notes/examples for them to refer back to throughout the year. For example, if covering finding fractions of amounts with students they would make some [condensed] notes on this in the 'number page' of their notebooks. Then, when covering converting between fractions, decimals and percentages, or finding percentages of amounts, the students may then update their previous notes in their 'number' section erasing what they had in their from beforehand and rewriting notes that combined their learning of these topics. Naturally, students would have to be 'trained' in this process.    
  2. Again, using the notebooks with a specific class, the notebooks could be used for students to keep as their revision notes for their GCSE examinations, say. This is something we have already been developing with our Y10s that will be going into Y11 in September. Basically, for the last term, to prepare them for their mock examinations and build their confidence with their Mathematics we did a certain amount of 'teaching to the test' where we told students that the topics covered in class would be on their end of Y10 mock examinations. We told them that it didn't mean those topics would be the only ones that would come up and didn't tailor lessons to the actual questions in the exam - just so we could say that they had covered a good portion of the content that would be on the exam. This avoided the usual 'yeah, but we hadn't learnt half the stuff on the test', although we've also had to take this into account when reviewing the results and setting of students for Y11. So, as we taught students over the last term, their homeworks were to keep notes of the topics covered in class that they could then use in their 'in class assessment' that we used as 'revision' prior to their mock exams. I created an exam paper similar to that of the one they were getting in their mocks and they used the notes they had been making for homework in the in-class assessment. This allowed them to see whether their notes were of any use, that they should have made notes/better notes if they had failed to put in the effort with their homeworks, the benefit of revision, that they had covered the topics and did know how to do certain topics, etc. So, with this approach the notebooks would be used in a similar way - for a class to keep their GCSE revision notes, updating them when needed and then using them as a revision tool to prepare them for their examinations. Students may need to take the notebooks home therefore and the notebook would be 'theirs', for a while at least, and then handed back at the end to be passed on to the next student.                                                                                                                              
  3. When using the books with any/all classes, the notebooks could be used as a 'working' book, leaving their exercise books to be used for notes/examples/homework. This way the work in their exercise books would become like a 'rule book', ready to be used for revision without having to sift through pages of working outs on the same topic - hopefully saving pages in their exercise books. As teachers, we would mark the notes/examples/homework in their exercise books and their notebooks would be used for their practise of Mathematics - where they attempt to answer questions, make mistakes, correct them and repeat. This use (and any use of the reusable notebooks, really) would enforce the message that it is OK to make mistakes in Mathematics, that we learn from our mistakes and (in the case of the books) they can just be rubbed out and improved upon.
The Pens...!
In terms of the pens, we had ideas about these too. This varied depending on which of the uses we came up with above.
  1. Give each member of the class a pen, possibly labelled with their name on, or with a number on it. The pen would either, a) stay in school and be kept by the teacher or b) be the students' responsibility, which they needed to replace if lost - offered in our school shop. The advantage of the keeping and labelling of the pens is that they could then be used as a random student generator (if kept in some sort of pot on the teachers' desk) or if numbered can easily be counted in and out.
  2. This approach would probably mean students being given one of the pens with the book and they having responsibility of it and replacing them when needed (you can use other whiteboard pens with the books)
  3. The pens would be kept in class with the notebooks and handed out when used in class. They would probably be numbered to be easily counted in and out - possibly then used as a random student picker for plenaries, etc by just calling out a number and the student with that pen then answering the question(s). There's a whole host of things you could also do with the numbered pens, which, if I decide on this approach, will probably blog about separately!
So they're our ideas so far based on seeing the notebooks - I'm sure we'll come up with more and will see what works and what doesn't. As we're planning on using these books with certain classes/years we will also order some into our school shop to give students the option of buying them for themselves, should they want their own notebook - just like we do with revision guides and the stationary our school shop stocks. 

If you're one of the primary schools that have received a class set of the notebooks it'd be great to hear from you to compare notes and potentially come and see them in action in your school? Tweet me @mrprcollins or comment below.

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