Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ISN Part 2 - The Pages and Purpose

The pages after the beginning setup is where the real magic happens.  Each side of the notebook serves a purpose.  The ISN has to have a purpose otherwise the book becomes meaningless to your students.  I've seen this too many times where cutting and pasting is done to waste time or done because 'it's what you're supposed to do'.  It's not.  What you're supposed to do is have a meaningful book that will allow for students to explore learning on their means.  Just putting lots of things on one page does not make it interactive - it makes it a disaster.  The kids get frustrated and your purpose of using the book is lost.  

The teachers that just do the ISN to waste time and look 'good' makes me beyond angry.  I'm rather passionate about this tool.  It really just makes my blood boil when people think they are 'doing the right thing' in their minds and just use it as a way not to teach.  It happens more often than you think.  You are the ones in the classroom that make the ISN meaningful to your students.  Your students will pick up on the fact that your book has no true purpose if you don't use it in the right matter.  That's where this whole perception of this 'baby work' comes into play.  Of course it's baby work if that cutting and pasting and the use of a crayon here or there is done without a purpose.  It's not baby work when the kids can turn to a perfect stranger to the classroom (such as observations) and explain the meaning and purpose behind an activity that they are doing.  It's a disservice to the child if one's goal is to just waste time and just do something because 'everyone is doing it'.

The word purpose stands out because you want to make sure your book has a purpose to your students.  Look at it as if it's a textbook.  Textbooks should have meaning (I know, that's not the case all the time)  What's nice about this book is that you get a side and the kids get a side.  In my book, my side is the right side and the kids side is the left side.  It's a little hard to get used to at first, but it's set up that way because of how the brain works.  You can make yours and go with the opposite way if you're more comfortable, but just make sure you have a side and so to the kids.   

Here's how it works:

On the left, you really want to see if the kids understand what you taught on the right.  Some kids might have a difficult time with a topic and the completed activity might be very limited.  That's ok - you as the teacher can go back and look and see what they might be missing or help scaffold the notes even more so to help them understand the topic or complete and activity.  You can also use the left side as a place where kids can as questions about the topic.  I do a fishbowl activity during the year with the kids and use a "KIQ" Chart - What I know, What I find Interesting, What Questions I may have about the topic.  It's a great way to see what they are missing from the lesson.  The options in this notebook ARE ENDLESS, but just remember, those options need to have a purpose. 

I found the hardest thing to do for the the ISN is coming up with activities.  The following website has been my bbf since the good old days of 2008.  There are lots of links (in all content areas) and lots of ideas to start to think about how to use the ISN.  I have a list of activities that I use and some that I've made up over time.  I'll post those for you one day, but with my wedding coming up in 2.5 weeks (gulp!), time isn't on my side....buttt I don't want to leave any of you hanging so check out the website!

ISN Wikispace - go here, bookmark this, whatever!  Take a look, it's helpful :)

Below are some examples from my students - again, I'm going to do my best the next few weeks to go through the step-by-step process of this, but seeing this for now gives you a bit of an idea what the ISN can look like.
Left Side:  Moon Phase homework - describing the positions of the Earth, Sun and Moon during Full and New Moons
Right Side: Moon Phase foldable that describe each phase of the moon

Now the above is just a format that you should try to follow, but there are times where you may need both sides of the book for your information - that's ok.  It happens from time to time.  You do what you need to do and then just go back to the format.  Remember, you want to keep the kids organized so if you need more space, it's fine.  

I know I've just hit the tip of the iceberg with this post, but it's important that you know that you have so many options with this notebook.  I want to describe I how use the ISN to you next and it's function it serves in my classroom.  Hopefully after you read that, you will soon find the way the ISN will fit your purpose in your classroom.


  1. So I am also a middle school science teacher and have decided to try the ISN to give our notebooks some MEANING this year. The decision came late, as in the first week of school ;-) So far we have a TOC and they spent today covering them with Life Science images from National Geographic magazines (fun, and it looks cool, and I got to hear some misconceptions as they talked amongst themselves). My question for you is this: it has always been my understanding that the right side of the brain is the creative, colorful, artistic side and the left side is the linear, analytical side. So why does everybody say to arrange the notebook opposite of that? I am curious to find out before I commit to which side will be input and which side output in my classroom this year.

  2. I'm really sorry I'm only responding to this now. Life got in the way (got married, then school started!), but I have to check exactly the reasoning behind why History Alive did it the way they do. They were the first ones to come up with the ISN. I have the first article some place and my friend is looking for hers so I can give you the correct answer.

    When I first started this, the people that I worked with said that it had to deal with the way the brain functioned - right side controls the left side and the left side controls your right side (again, I'm looking up the legit reason), and I went with it to keep things the same with our unit. I didn't want the kids to get confused as I was doing this for the first time. Ever since then, it's just made sense for me to do it that way. I've seen it done the other way and honestly, you should pick what's best for you.

    I'm really sorry again I didn't respond. Hopefully I'll have the researched answer for you soon.

  3. Hi, Wish I had found this sooner! I am also a middle school science teacher new to the ISN idea, but LOVE the concept. I am working in an alternative school with VERY little to no supplies, so this will be essential... IF I can get the kids to cooperate :) Anyway, I have an answer to your question about why the page sides seem oddly switched. that is HOW ouur eye deliver the visual messages to our brain R eye to L side of brain and L eye to R side of brain. check out the link for a nice visual on it:
    Hope this helps.

    1. That's what I thought :) So much has happened over the past few months that I've been slacking on here. Thanks for the answer!

  4. I have been interested in the ISN for since I was in university in 2009. I had a long hard think and decided that mine would be the other way around, left for teacher, right for student. I did this because the left side of the brain is analytical and the right creative, but also because the right side of the book is where you look first when you open it. It also seemed to make more sense to me that the input came before the output. I am only a very new teacher, I have done one year of full time teaching and I didn't use ISN with all the classes I had. It became a little overwhelming even just restricting it to two grades. Both of those (7 &9) seemed to get something out of it though. I have a contract for the coming year teaching 9-12, I am planning on using ISN with 9 and 10 - hopefully I will be able to keep up the pace. I have been working on the first unit over the holidays.

    1. That's awesome! I've been slacking on writing on here and just saw this :) Once you get used to it, it becomes second nature. It's a great tool. The kids love it.

      Keep me posted on grades 9 and 10 - I love the fact that people are using it in the higher levels. My friend is using it for her classes in the high school. The kids are loving it!