Math notebooks can be amazing or a complete failure, so let’s talk about 5 middle school math notebook ideas you can use in your classroom. Let’s start with talking about what a math notebook is. Math notebooks are any notebook where students are translating their thinking and learning onto paper in a way that makes sense and is meaningful to them. If you’ve tried math notebooks and feel like they failed or are just looking for new ideas to use, keep reading.
1. Have A System
No matter what age group you teach, having a system and game plan for everything is a huge key in if it ends up being successful or not. So, your math notebook is no different. Although you may not know every single page that will be glued into your notebook, have a plan for how those pages will look inside.
In my 6th grade math notebook, each lesson contains 2 notes pages that get glued side to side. That same pattern is followed for every single lesson we cover. This helps students build a routine, get good at the routine, and become familiar with the notebook so it is “neater” and more useable to them.
Other Things To Consider When Creating Your Notebook System:
- Does your actual notebook have enough pages to fit your system? For example, if you want to use one pacers for notes but only glue them on the right side pages, ensuring you’ll have enough space for the entire year is crucial.
- Are your notebook’s pages big enough to fit full size pages as is or do they need to be reduced? The notebook I use is linked at the end of this post and fits regular pages perfectly.
- Where will your students keep other lesson related pages such as their independent practice, study guides, etc.? My students have a separate folder just for math class where they keep these things.
The system is important, but not as important as staying clear and consistent on using the system for your math notebook all year.
2. Create A Structure For The Notebook
Once you have a system for your math notebook, structuring how and when pages will be added to the notebook is the next challenge. Here’s the thing, outsiders to teaching probably assume “bigger kids” know how to glue, tape, cut, and write, but we know they don’t. These are things that we need to structure so that their notebook is maintained.
Create a daily structure that becomes part of their routine. Let me break down what this looks like in my classroom.
- The first week of school, I teach a lesson to my middle schoolers on how to glue. Yes, you read that right. Why? Because if I don’t explicitly teach them how to glue, they’ll either eat the glue stick, waste half of it gluing 2 pages, or not glue pages correctly which means they’ll fall out.
- I teach my “start of class routine” which consists of students coming in and as they pass my entry table, they grab the two notes pages for the day. Then, they go to their seat and glue them in immediately. After that they complete their warm-up, planner, etc., but as you can see, they have the same structure to follow every single day.
Again, consistency is key. You can get all the most amazing middle school math notebook ideas to take back to your classroom, but if you don’t explicitly teach what you want, re-teach it as needed, and remain consistent all year, your notebooks will be a hot mess.
3. Have A Plan For Organization
Organization of a math notebook is another important thing to think about. More importantly than having a notebook that is pieces together is having a notebook that is functional for the student. It’s no surprise that most middle schoolers struggle with organization, which is why it’s important to keep things simple but organized in a way that allows for them to easily find things.
Things To Consider When Organizing Your Math Notebook:
- How will you organize the actual lessons/content? Think about if your lessons have sequential numbers, are broken up into units, or how things can be chunked inside of the notebook.
- Will a table of contents be helpful for your students?
- Can you use dividers to add additional organization?
So now, analyze your lessons and units beforehand and choose what organization strategy(s) fit best. Here’s an example of what I do in my math notebook.
My 6th grade curriculum is broken into 6 units. Each lesson has a unit number and overall lesson number (i.e. Unit 1 Lesson 2, Unit 2 Lesson 14, etc.) Due to this, I follow the exact order when we organize our notebooks, meaning we glue every new lesson right after the previous. To add easy access to where to find each unit, we add a divider tab at the start of each unit. This allows for students to quickly get to the unit they need.
Remember, organization of your notebook could be the determining factor of just how often students refer back to their notes, so choose strategically.
4. Leave A Spot For Extras
Whether it’s a math notebook, science notebook, or ELA notebook, at some point there will be handouts, important references, etc. that need a safe space. Consider where in your notebook you can glue in these extra pages as well as any additional lessons, resources, etc. that you bring in as the year goes on.
That first week of school, either glue in your “extras” or leave a spot within the notebook for them.
Let me give you an example.
The first 6-8 pages in my students’ math notebooks have all of our “logistical” pages. You can read more of what I include at the beginning of the year here.
- Class Syllabus
- FAQ’s Handout
- Data Trackers
- What Does My Grade Mean? Resource Page
- State Test Goal Page
- Bell Schedules
I leave a few pages empty for anything else I forgot or that comes up. Not only is it helpful to have important documents in the same place as their math notes, but it also keeps everything in its own section still as discussed in organizing the notebook. Try making a list of any pages you can think of that would be helpful to have glued in their notebook that you want them to keep all year. Remember, your situation is probably different so I am just providing you with middle school math notebook ideas that have worked for me.
5. Build And Keep A Teacher Notebook
Keep a master teacher copy of your math notebook that you build daily with the students. Not only will it keep you on pace with them as they add to theirs daily, but it is also helpful when students are absent or a staff member is supporting your students.
Here’s a few things that work for me:
- I teach 3 cores of math so I have one notebook for each class. I color code them and only use each notebook with the class it belongs to. When your classes get on different paces, this is super helpful.
- I add my pages at the start of every class when my students do it. It gives me a sense of how long it should be taking them and shows them that we are all working at the same goal(s).
Other FAQ’s About My Math Notebook:
- What notebook do you use?
- The notebook I use is the Office Depot brand, 100 pages, and 1 subject, but currently out of stock. This notebook is similar, the same brand, and just has more pages.
- Why do you use a notebook instead of a binder?
- We tried binders our first year in 6th grade middle school math and quickly saw it was not a good fit for our kids. They always accidentally ripped out pages, forgot to put them in, put them in the wrong place, and they took up so much room in their backpacks. This notebook system has been much more successful for our kids.
- Do your students leave their notebooks in class?
- NO. My students take them with them every single day. I have over 100 students and being in a middle school setting, helping them develop responsibility is important.
- Do students forget their notebooks often?
- Honestly, no. We start the year clear and firm about the expectation being that they have their notebook with them every single day. Once in a great while, a student may forget it, but 99% of the time, our students have them in class because they know we need them daily.
- Do you do notebook checks or grade their notebooks?
- No, I don’t do either. There is no need for notebook checks because I am constantly “checking” them every day while I watch them glue pages in. I address any issues in that moment. From time to time, I may do a “check” to make sure a million pages aren’t following out. I have them switch notebooks with their partner and they do a quick flip-thru. I just have them take a few minutes and re-glue any loose pages. I don’t grade notebooks. I have found that the more “pressure” we put on the grading or notebook checks, the more the kids resent them.
- Where do you get your lessons that are glued in your math notebook?
- Transforming the Middle on Teachers Pay Teachers (Mine and my amazing partner teacher’s joint TpT)
By the end of the school year, my students have 100% ownership of their math notebook and all their hard work they built. It becomes a portfolio more than a notebook by the end of the year. Math notebooks can be an amazing tool for your students with the right guidance from you. I hope these 5 middle school math notebook ideas helped give you some new tips for your classroom.