Two-Column Notes in Middle School Math
by: Cheryl Mantia and Kristin MacCurtain
“Hate to admit it…”
In the two years that we have been using 2-column notes regularly in the math classroom, students have demonstrated a better understanding of math topics and developed more independence in their problem-solving. They still sometimes say, “Wait, how do I do this?” but our responses are often “Look in your 2-column notes and see if you can answer the question yourself.” More often than not, students can answer their own questions.
Students, themselves, find the emphasis on structured note-taking and note-creation, helpful. This was evident as early as during the first week of school when students wrote their “mathography.” In their mathographies, students write about their previous experiences in math, including telling us about strategies that help them learn math better. In the words of one of my students: “Hate to admit it, but taking notes.” A majority of students listed writing notes as one of the strategies that helps them learn math more effectively.
We use 2-column notes primarily in following ways: one, we generate the notes as a class while learning a new topic and two, students create their own notes. When we generate notes as a class, we sometimes, as teachers, provide the students with all the elements including the heading, main ideas on the left, and details on the right. Other times, we provide some of the elements and the class brainstorms others. When students generate their own notes, especially for review purposes, they may work independently or in groups, both as class and homework assignments. During one such class activity when students worked in partners to generate notes summarizing a chapter, one student asked, “Is this making our study guide?” (yes) and another commented, “We have some of these details in our earlier notes. Can we use them?” (Yes, again)
In conclusion, 2-column notes have helped our students understand and retain math concepts in a better and more useful way. It helps that they also use 2-column notes in their other core subjects, so when we ask them to take their notebooks out, they automatically draw a line to split the paper into ⅓ and ⅔. Hopefully with the implementation of KTL in the elementary grades this will be a skill that they will continue to use regularly to increase their understanding and their retention of math concepts. We have attached some student examples of 2-column notes.