ISN for the Win

Have you ever seen one of those episodes of Oprah where she gives everyone in her audience a few of her favorite things? I’m talking about anything from “Here’s my new favorite skillet to scramble eggs in” all the way to “Here’s my favorite car!”

While it’s been years since I’ve even seen a clip of one of those shows, the idea has stuck with me. One time, I even did a smaller version of this for a girlfriends’ get-together (trust me, my version looked a lot more like gifting my favorite chapstick and ink pen brands and less like my favorite car or TV, but the basic concept was the same). LOL

Well, that is how I feel about a few of the things this little teacher has incorporated into her classroom. In a previous post, I shared my love for choice boards (another of my favorite things), but today, it’s all about the ISN.

Animal Cell ISN page

The Interactive Student Notebook (or “ISN”) is one of the coolest things we do in our science, math, and language classes. Our version of the ISN is simply a blank composition book reserved for only our most important notes for a particular subject.

For math, it would be the place where we keep our most important formulas and a few sample problems. For English, it would house things like grammar rules and research paper guidelines. For science, it would be a one-stop shop for vocabulary, diagrams, and even paper dissections!

The goal is to help students practice picking out the most important information from all of the input they are receiving (textbooks, lectures, labs, etc.). Then, by basically creating their own mini-textbook (or study guide) for each subject, they can quickly review without becoming overwhelmed by the volume of information.

Then (and this is my favorite part), they can carry these small composition books with them throughout their educational career. Their Algebra I ISN, for example, makes a fantastic resource as they head into Algebra II. These student-created notebooks can even be carried with them to college! (and they take up way less space in a dorm room than a stack of high school textbooks)

Another way I’ve found that these ISNs help students review is that many really enjoy spending time making their notes as aesthetically pleasing as possible. In addition to color-coding, highlighting, and underlining, many students also enjoy using fun lettering techniques to create page titles and call attention to other important information. As fun as all of these things are, they also ensure that students are spending even more time with the concepts covered in class, and that is a giant win for me!

So, even if you are new to ISNs, I highly encourage you to give this fun note-taking strategy a try. You can make it your own and have fun along the way as you review.

Here are some examples* of student work from our science classes:

Science ISN: Firefly Life Cycle


For more information on classes and enrollment, please feel free to visit our Academics page.

For more information on curriculum and supplies for your homeschool journey, please feel free to check out our Resources page.

*These (and many other) ISN resources are available for purchase at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Flashback Friday: “The Little Teacher”

As we are sucking the marrow out of those last few weeks of summer and getting ready for all things “back to school,” I can’t help but think about that little teacher inside of me who still gets giddy just thinking about school supplies! I mean, I’ve said for YEARS that candle companies need to make a “freshly-sharpened #2 pencil” scented candle, but no such luck so far (I’ll keep you posted).

In my back-to-school moment of nostalgia, I found the following “flashback” scrolling through pictures of pictures on my phone (I find myself in that great generational divide that sometimes requires you to whip out your camera phone to snap a picture of a real life picture on display at your parents’ house). So, please excuse the glare and old-school white edges.

The Little Teacher
“Miss Leah” school picture from around 2nd grade

As embarrassing as it might be, this is one of my favorite pictures. I was wearing a denim skirt, pink tank top with matching pink belt, and a button up shirt that made me feel like I could have been friends with my hero Laura Ingalls Wilder! You guys – I walked into picture day READY! (Thanks, Mama T)

Then, as I moved up in the line, I saw that the backdrop was a beautiful autumn scene – my favorite season! Finally, when it was my turn, they handed me books (my most favorite thing in the world) to hold – SCORE!

So, by the time the cameraman stepped back to take the picture, he didn’t even have to tell me to smile because I was standing there in my favorite outfit in front of a picture of my favorite season holding my favorite object! The world was my oyster, y’all!

And here’s the crazy part, every year as we get closer to the back to school season, this is the little girl jumping up and down inside of me! I can’t believe that as an adult I get to go “play school” every week! I get to write important things on a giant whiteboard in front of the class. I have a pen collection that would make that girl in the picture pee her pants! And don’t even get me started on sticky notes and erasers! I’m getting lightheaded just thinking about it.

But here’s the most important part – if I could go back in time and talk to that girl in the picture, I would tell her to hold tight to her dream. I would tell her that when God gives you the desires of your heart, and you put Him in charge of your journey, life will be a great adventure (that might even come with cool office supplies if you’re really lucky).

Sadly, I won’t be sharing a chocolate milk with that “little teacher” in the picture anytime soon, but I will make sure to pass along that message to every student that comes through my doors. I want them to know that whether they met God in Sunday school years ago or are just now hearing about Him that He has a beautiful plan for their lives.

I want them to know that they are loved and valued, and they are so much more than the grade they made on their last quiz. I want them to fall in love with God as we learn more about His creation and all the ways He has “shown up” and “shown out” throughout history. So, whether we are looking through a microscope or the lens of history or language or math, I want them to see Him

His design.

His plan.

His purpose.

Then, the next time they look in the mirror, I hope it’s a little easier to find all those things in themselves! Because that is what I see when I look at them!