The Power of a Physical Book

When it comes to learning math, one size does not fit all. There is no magic curriculum that works for every type of student and every type of learner. However, in 20+ years of teaching high school math, I have found that all students benefit from one thing: having a physical math notebook (or textbook) that contains easy-to-read explanations and class notes, as well as previous assignments so students can easily flip back and look at them as a reminder. Students absolutely WILL forget math concepts, especially algebra concepts. Because of this, they need a quick and easy way to remind themselves of previously learned concepts.

This contrasts with curricula that are completely online. While completely online curricula have advantages (access from any device, automatically graded homework, students not having to keep up with anything, etc.), I frequently find that students who use a completely online curriculum don’t have any physical notes or physical homework assignments to refer back to when they get stuck or need to remember something previously taught. Since math builds on itself, students MUST be able to go back and remind themselves of concepts already covered. But this is difficult or nearly impossible when every part of the curriculum is completely online.

Now, when I say students benefit from a physical textbook, I’m not talking about just using a traditional math textbook. We all know that those can be difficult to read and understand. What I have found to be the most helpful to students is to have a consumable textbook with easy-to-understand guided class notes that the student fills in as they are taught (preferably by video lessons or a live person daily). Then they complete a homework assignment on paper. This way students have materials at hand to easily flip back and remind themselves or easily reteach themselves previously learned concepts. I’ve seen the power of this firsthand.

Last year, I taught four different math classes. All four of them were taught by daily teaching videos. One of them had a guided notes textbook (Denison Algebra 1). One class also had guided notes, but they were pieced together from different sources. The other two classes were traditional, where students had a traditional textbook from a big curriculum company, and they took their own notes on paper while being taught. The two classes with just a traditional textbook struggled the most. They were frequently “stuck” more than the other classes when we met weekly for class. They also struggled the most with keeping organized and turning in homework. The class that had pieced together guided notes did a little better, but still struggled with organization. However, the class that had the guided notes, textbook, and homework all bound together was a very different story. Nobody lost a single assignment, and rarely did anyone get stuck on problems during the week because they could easily look back and remind themselves of anything they needed.  

Again, while every single student learns differently, there are definitely things that help every type of student learn better. I believe that one of the most effective is to have an easy way for students to look back and remind themselves of any previously taught math concepts. To do this, they need a sensible, easy-to-understand student text and homework system. Keep this in mind as you plan for the coming school year, because every student can experience success in math!

Happy Planning and Teaching,


P.S. If you’d like some help with planning high school math for your homeschooler, check out our free guide.


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