We don’t use a textbook in my class. So my students’ binders are their key physics possession. When I first started teaching, I foolishly just assumed that when I told them to get and keep a binder for my class, that they would know how to do that (and would do it). During that first year, it became excruciatingly obvious that organizing themselves well for a class was not a skill that many of my students possessed.
Still, setting up and maintaining a binder is a great skill to take with you to college (and to be able to use for the rest of high school). Organization is not a “natural” skill (show me a baby that is ready to use a label-maker and I’ll start changing my mind). So if it isn’t innate, it must be learnable. Indeed, I speak from personal experience here.
For the past few years, I have provided binders for my students. The binders come set with tabs, handouts, graph paper, the first Modeling packet, and a nifty nameplate. Most students are immediately grateful for this “gift” (they do pay for the materials out of their student accounts… and the binders are MUCH cheaper than a textbook), recognizing the value. Many report that they are much more organized in physics than in any other class. And I often see the binders still hanging around the next year, appropriated for another subject.
After using the binders for a year, they have an idea of what it looks like to be really organized for a class.
The Making of a Physics Binder
I am putting together my binders now. I am going to document the construction here. You can see what they look like and how I put them together.
I use Staples Better Binders because of the nifty (yet sometimes annoying) rubber binding. The front plastic view sheet may fall off, as may the built-in pocket folder inside (not actually very useful), but the binders themselves are very durable. I’ve had one student break the rings, but other than that, they have managed to stand up to student
abuse care each year.
The downside of these binders is that the durable rubber binding makes them harder to slide into backpacks. But when I ask students at the end of the year, they usually agree that the durability trumps the annoyance.
During the year, I have also started giving out sticky write-on tabs for each packet to help them keep even more organized with all of the materials that we hand out in this class. With all of my students walking into class impeccably organized from day one, that’s one fewer hurdle that they have to jump to start becoming physics masters. For students with organizational struggles that have made other classes more difficult for them, they start out on equal footing, here. I like to think that even though learning physics requires keeping track of many threads that all depend on one another, my class is one that sets up kids with ADHD for success. Of course, the things that help them also seem to make it better for their (usual levels of teenage scatteredness) classmates, too. A win for everyone!