Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ISN Part 1 - The Beginning and Organization

In my last post I said the ISN changed my life.  It can change yours too.  Don't be fooled that this is something that you can ONLY do in science.  It's something that works across the board and I have seen successful notebooks in all content areas.  

As the teacher, you can't control the content you teach, but you can control how you teach the content.  

I feel like the second part gets lost with many people.  The ISN allows for the teacher to 'control the way you teach' in ways that can be considered beneficial to your students.

So, how does this little thing work?  It's up to you on how you make it work, but the idea behind is it that the students get a place in their books to explore the content.  It's also VERY, VERY, VERY organized.   I am not the most organized person, but when I learned about this, it was like the clouds parted in the sky and that bright light came through.  I seriously thought, "Krystina, this is what you need."  It totally was and still is. 

The kids, you know the ones that are like, "Oh, that paper, yeah, I don't where it is. Do you have another one?" or the ever popular, "It's in my locker, I think," won't misplace their work.  That right there should get ANY teacher giddy with excitement!  If you really think about it, sometimes as teachers (and let me state not all teachers) write kids off as not being able to pass because they are lazy or they just aren't trying enough.  Anyone ever take into consideration they just might be a kids and some can be more disorganized compared to others.  I see it too often and it bothers me because maybe it's not that they aren't trying, but even in 8th grade, they haven't mastered the organization yet.  It happens - especially when no one teaches them how to organize.  We should NOT assume they know how.  We can't write them off and tell them that 'they'll have to do this next year in high school' (I HATE IT WHEN I HEAR THAT FROM TEACHERS).  The ISN helps tremendously content wise but more important with their organization.

I'm going to go through and show you my set up for the first part of the ISN.  You can change things  according to what will work for your class :)

1)  Yesterday I showed you an author's page.  That's just one way you can learn about the author of that particular ISN.  I love to see what the kids bring in because there are times where they draw, write, or even bring in pictures of themselves and their families.  It's fun to learn a little bit about themselves.

Here's just an example of one:

She wrote poems and words to describe herself

2)  Title page for the unit.  Some teachers out there may want to have sections in their books that pertain to the unit of study.  The title page is a great way to section this off within the book.  I use this page to see what the kids know about a particular topic that we are going to be studying.  Here are two examples of Astronomy title pages.

3) The Table of Contents or the TOC.  When you're a kid (or at least when I was), you're taught what the purpose of the TOC is and it's location.  I have it located right after the title page of each unit.  The kids fight me on it at first saying they'll never use it, but when we start playing games (like a scavenger hunt) or reviewing they begin to use it and realize it's purpose.  Even in the 8th grade, I have to teach my students different ways in how to study and the ISN provides me with many ways to do this.  

Each day the kids look at the Do Now and for the most part, it's to set up their ISN or do something within the ISN.  I'll post what the Do Now looks like in my classroom at a later date.

How does the TOC look?
  • Title - The exact title of the specific page
  • Page # - Important that the kids put it there this way they know where to look
  • Optional - Date - some kids like to put the date in the margin this way they know when they put that page in their ISN
Below you'll find an example of a TOC from a student's ISN from this past year:

These are two pages of the TOC for the Astronomy Unit
 As for the amount of pages, again, this is up to you.  I have used books where I only had two pages of TOC and books that I decided to have 4-6 pages.  If you run out of space, it's very easy to attach a piece of notebook paper in to the notebook so the students can continue with their TOC.  It's not a bad idea to actually have paper cut down to size (especially if your using a composition book) for the kids when this happens.  They love details and NEED their books to be perfect - they'll spend time cutting the paper down and forgetting about the actual TOC to copy in if there isn't paper ready.

4) Words Worth Knowing or the WWK - This might be one of my favorite part of the ISN.  You don't think about it, but science (as well as ALL other subjects) is filled with vocabulary that the students may or may not know.  From my experience, science has some pretty nasty words that are super difficult to say and have super long definitions.  They need a place to write this down.  Seriously, however many times you may say the definition in class, there are going to be kids that still won't get it.  The WWK gives them the opportunity to look up the words when asked.  This little reference area is critical.  Also does wonders for ELL students as well (more on that another time).

Over the years, I have changed the amount of pages that I've set aside for the WWK.  For me, I've begun to set aside about 6 pages for most units.  This allows all students with small print and large print to have enough space.  Again, having paper ready to be attached when they do run out of space is always a good thing - saves you both time.  Below is an example:

First page of the student's WWK for the Astronomy Unit
Just as a strategy, I highlight my words and number them in my own personal book.  I do this so the kids know how many words we have covered and how many words I'll be looking for when I check the notebooks.  It's more or less your own preference and you doing what you're most comfortable with the WWK.  I'm thinking this year that I may add the numbers on the board this way there is no confusion at the end.

This is only the beginning.  Yes, it's a lot to take in, and a lot of class time at FIRST, but if you are doing this for the very first time, over time it will become second nature for everyone in class.


  1. Thanks for posting this! Although I have been teaching for many years, I am new to the ISN concept. This makes me excited, and a bit overwhelmed at the same time. Looking forward to future posts!

    1. I'm so glad you're excited! It's a great tool! Even if you don't start full out with the ISN, the way that the pages work (right and left) could be a great way to start. I'm getting into those tonight/tomorrow.

      I promise though, once you get a handle of the ISN, it really is the easiest thing in the world. My friend started it in January one year and the transformation of her classes from the beginning of the year to the end of the year was amazing. Hopefully the posts will help you out :)

  2. Hi I'm a new follower and a 3rd year teacher. I am trying to change a lot this year (I figure my third year is the last time I can claim I'm a "new teacher" so I might as well dive in while I have the excuse.) and want to do interactive notebooks. I'm excited to see what other ideas you share!

    Brynn: www.brynncody.blogspot.com

    1. That's awesome that you want to do this. I cannot tell you how much the ISN changed the way I taught. It totally transformed me as a teacher. I have a ton of stuff about it and lots of sources to help. Hopefully you can use some of it for your class this year :)

  3. Just wondering, since you have a table of contents per unit, do the page numbers start at one again when you begin a new unit? Or do you continue from the last page number of the last unit? Thank you!