Interactive Notebooks …. Lessons Learned and Planning for 16-17

Hello, friends!  Gina and I have sneezed our way out of a pollen-filled haze known as springtime in Alabama and are back to finish out the school year strong.  We took a bit of a March blog break but were continually talking, planning and thinking CS teaching.   These days we mostly are talking and thinking about next year.  Yes, we are working hard to finish this year but like any seasoned teacher we start the decent to summer planning ahead on what we will do the same, what we will totally change, what we will tweak and what we will try new.   The main topic of today’s post is going to be about our reflection on our Interactive Journals this year but before I get to that here are a few other things happening on the horizon ~

APCSP Summer Institutes — We will both lead AP Summer Institutes for AP Computer Science Principles at endorsed CollegeBoard sites around the country.  We would love for you to join us and learn with us.  Next week’s blog post will be an All About APSIs post 🙂  Look forward to that!

APCSP Syllabi and Course Materials — We have a CollegeBoard approved course audit syllabus for APCSP and are planning now how best to bundle our audit-syllabi and associated teaching materials for providing to teachers.   APSI participants will receive our materials and resources, and we plan to also have a system to make the available digital or via snail mail for anyone.    Teachers new to APCSP will have a buffet of resources to choose among from many resources and syllabi/pacing guides on the CollegeBoard site and lesson plans on the CS10K site.   We hope to help teachers find any and all of those as well as try things that have proven useful in our classrooms.

More CS Teaching Resources for 2016-17 — We are planning and thinking of ways to create more vocabulary resources, unit and topic quizzes for APCSP, and more AbstractionNotebook and javaJournal materials for next year.   If there is a specific thing you would love to see more of or have ideas about, please comment to us.

that’s all for the announcements but weren’t they exciting!

now, to today’s post….

Interactive Notebooks get


Last June in a Hampton Inn hotel room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, we decided to try a new idea that Gina found in her readings….Interactive Notebooks (INs).   Interactive Notebooks, we theorized, had the potential to help us tie up loose ends in our classes and provide a way for student to build a “book” for the course since we don’t have books to issue to students for taking home.   We found many examples from math and science and English teachers about using INs effectively and purposefully in their classrooms.   Based on the positive results from those core area teachers, we believed it worth working to adapt and try.   Adapting activities for computer science content was our challenge and mission.

First we needed names for our INs.    For Computer Science Principles the IN would be called an Abstraction Notebook because we wanted students to “abstract” the key concepts from the course and have that in their journal.   AP Computer Science-A students would create and use javaJournals as our course topic is Java and camel case is a cute way to connect public class names to the IN name.  These names have held true to what we hoped, and the INs have added a productive and useful element to our classes.   During the year we were able to have an inquiry project group on the CS10K about Gina’s Interactive Notebook idea and the feedback from participating teachers is positive.   None of us in the inquiry group has had the time we wish to devote to our INs, but we collectively see value in developing the classroom teaching tool and resources over time.  Many useful ideas have been explored, test and shared.  We will meet once more with the inquiry group but that has been a way for us to share ideas and gather feedback over this academic year about the IN project.  We appreciate the time and support of the CS10K toward our ideas and interests as computer science teachers.

The Abstraction Notebooks and javaJournals have taught a few lessons during the year.   I’ve prepared a little show and tell to share with you.  It’s always good to reflect, learn from mistakes and come out better.  So here we go with #1 being the first and biggest lesson learned HA!

Interactive Notebook Top Ten Lessons

from our Beta Test in 15-16:

#1 — Glue is a mess with high school students.  [Somebody say Amen.]  Students put glue on paper like putting ketchup on fries.    No offense to Elmer’s but high school teachers and high school students need to just say no to glue.

#2 — Double stick tape is better than glue; request students bring a roll of double-sided tape as a school supply.

#3 — Crop down handouts to 6.25 x 8.5 for best fit in the journals; a suggested formatting method is to turn the document Landscape first which controls the height then move the right margin to 4-4.5″; this generally gets things to a good size for the composition notebook journals.

#4 — For multi-page handout use staples at top to add sets of pages to the book (see image below).  This is a guided code analysis for the APCS-A students and due to the many pages of this activity, we divided the graphic organizer pages into two parts and stapled them in at the top so they could be flipped upward and managed well.  This proved useful throughout the year.  Jill’s student Hana P was the ingenious one who suggested it first 😉


#4  Using Post-it Notes for communicating with students in their INs is personal and confidential.  This page shows the inside cover of an APCSP students Abstraction Notebook.  We added an envelope for use to hold Post its for students and throughout the year when I periodically checked the journal (maybe 2-3 times a nine weeks) I wrote my feedback on notes.  High school students like notes, they like individual feedback and they like knowing that we really look at and acknowledge their effort and hard work.


#5 — Interactive Notebooks provide a perfect place for creating a chronological timeline of the course.  Shown here are the Tables of Contents for each IN.  The Abstraction Notebook (CSP) shown left side was in page order with the name of the activity, worksheet, notes topic as the item; the javaJournal (CS-A) shown right side was in unit/chapter order with those pre-filled with space left for detail to be added.


#6 — The course comes to life in the interaction of the student to the content to the journal.  It is true that when looking back through a student’s journal the activities and notes mean more when they are accumulated in one place and tell a story of the year and the course.  Shown here are activities from APCSP.



#7 — Course prep for the AP Exam can be well organized in the IN.   Shown here is a way that we use the journal to help students review the APCSP Exam Reference Guide and connect it to their programming projects through the year.   On the image to the left students took the sections of the ERG and recorded what types of methods, procedures those elements would include; on the image to the right students took each section of the ERG and cross referenced it to actual code they wrote during the year.  The code and ERG were pasted into the journal.  This will be excellent for exam prep.

ExamRG1 ExamRG3 ExamRG2

#8 — javaJournals provide a place for students to write code on paper to prepare for the Free Response portion of the exam.  One surprise this year was how most students in CS-A responded to their javaJournals.  Most students never leave their journals in the lab but instead carry them with them all the time and quickly are able to locate things in the journal when topics come up.  In CS-A the javaJournal has become a true reference guide and personal journal.  I loved seeing this happen.

FRQ notes

GraphicOrganizer1 multi-pageHO

#9 — Interactive Notebooks need a home in your classroom lab.  Find a crate or file drawer so that when you take them up or when students need to lighten the load of their backpack there is a place to keep the INs.


#10 —  Manila mail envelopes are a journal’s best friend.   To make it easier to collect journals for review, I distributed 9 x 13″ size mail envelopes.  This was one of those unintended brilliant teacher moves because little did I know the wear and tear of a backpack and teenager schedule until I began to see the envelopes.  Thankfully the envelopes took the brunt of the tatters and the journals remained unharmed.  Another idea would be to use manila file folders taped up on three sides with packing tape — this would be even sturdier than the mailers.


Here is what can happen when one looses his envelope but very much uses his javaJournal 😉


We have loved using journals this year and see great potential to teach with them for years to come. I find journals more personal the binders and find the inconvenience of the smaller size worth the adjustment when compared to spirals or pages coming loose.   The APCSP glossary of terms in the back of the Abstraction Notebooks was a wonderful thing to walk students through in the fall and to refer to in the spring.  The value in hand writing Java code in the javaJournal I believe will pay dividends on the AP exam.   All in all I go back to saying that Interactive Notebooks get two thumbs up.  They have proven a worthwhile addition.   We plan to add more structure and content for them in 16-17 and hope you join us in the journey.

Take care and be blessed, Jill

3 thoughts on “Interactive Notebooks …. Lessons Learned and Planning for 16-17

    • Hi, Myra — a few years back (my first year as an APCSP Pilot teacher) we used Google Sites for digital “portfolios.” It took major chucks of class time to allow students extra lab time to create the site content from their course content and in the end they still did not have a “course notebook” to take home for study. While we are a 1:1 school, not all students have Internet access at home so the missing link was still home content connection. The other thing we have seen this year is the value in hand writing things down — good, old fashioned notes. Anyway, it has worked well for us and may be worth your consideration or tweaking. Great to hear from you!

  1. Thank you for this update on the IN. I’m getting ready to teach AP CSP next school year, so this information will really come in handy. Thank you!

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