Sticky Note Methodology

I get asked everyone once in a while by fellow APES teachers how I run my class with sticky-notes, flipping, Edpuzzle etc., so I am writing this post to outline what I do. As any good teacher would do, feel free to copy what might work in your class and tweak things to match your own personality, teaching style, and the type of community and kids you have.

Sticky Notes

I started doing sticky-notes in the textbook as a form of notes at around the 2nd year of teaching APES. I had issues the first year of teaching the course when the really smart kids who could read the book and understand it didn’t want to take notes from my PowerPoints. I totally understood their point of view as I also was one of those kids as a student.

As a teacher, however, I also needed to address the needs of kids who are not the typical honors kid and are taking their first honors and/or AP® class. They needed more from me in terms of content.  How do I address both needs?  Sticky-notes was what I came up with.  I got the idea from English teachers who would have their kids sticky-note a novel as they discussed the novel. I thought “why can’t we do that with a textbook?” So, we did.

This is a page from the Withgott textbook on Acid Deposition.

I made sticky-notes as a template in my own textbook and used a document camera and LCD to project. The kids brought in their books to class to copy the sticky-notes down.  I explained the harder concepts and gave examples as we went through each page in the book.  

Pages from Chapter 15 Withgott-water quality

During sticky-notes, I point out what figures and captions are important.  I also add information to the appropriate page if my textbook doesn’t cover it well. An example above  is BOD-Biological Oxygen Demand. My book doesn’t cover it, so we add it via sticky notes.  I also point out some important facts such as “#1 Culprit of groundwater pollution is underground storage tanks”.

I expect kids to be able to read the book to obtain  information. On this page, I point out the two items they are expected to know: Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) and Plastic Pollution.

Students can read about these topics in the book and learn.

This page has an important chart and I point out that the kids need to know that Europe is shrinking in population and Subsaharan Africa is growing.

Charts, graphs, figures and pictures along with their captions are super important.

I also added some extra  information about Humus on this page.  

A teacher can easily add information to the appropriate page.

Some advantages with Sticky-Notes that I’ve found through the years

  • Less writing for students as they don’t have to re-copy the same things that the book says. The sticky-notes tell them what’s important to study on each page.
  • Saves a lot of time as you are not recopying term definitions or diagrams. A sticky note tells them which terms and diagrams are important on each page to memorize.
  • Pinpoints what is important for passing the AP® exam so kids don’t have to study everything in the book. I narrowed it down for them.

Some disadvantages of sticky-notes

  • Kids cannot use “super sticky” or they leave residue in the book which makes the pages stick together for the next student. 
    • Update from May 2017: I discovered this year that rubbing each page with felt or some rough cloth removes the sticky residue. I made all my students do that this year.
  • The books get thick so the bindings can become compromised. I tell kids to use small writing and the least amount of sticky-notes per page. If this is a problem with your school admin., then have the kids copy on notebook paper with page numbers so they can study with their books open and the info written on notebook paper. 
Example of book “thick” from sticky notes.
  • Kids cannot use bright neon-colored notes as they will bleed onto the page in a hot car.
Not allowed
  • Kids have to bring their book to school on days we sticky-note which makes for heavy backpacks and more wear and tear on the books.  Ideally, we should sticky-note every day after reading the section, but I don’t have them do that. Before flipping my class, I had them bring in books about 2-3 days per week only. I told them ahead of time and used Remind texting to help.
  • It’s not the best method for a struggling kid who needs a lot of help and everything explained to them. Fortunately, in my classes, the counselors don’t put many of those students in my course–they really do a great job at placing kids who are “AP® Ready”

(The College Board has something called “AP® Potential”). This doesn’t mean all high-achievers or honors kids. About ⅔ of my kids are average kids who are trying an AP® for the first time.

I recommend really talking with your textbook clerk and/or administration about why this method is so good so they understand why the books might get more wear and tear than normal. I tell them at least the kids are really reading and using my book compared to some other classes. When I started this method of note-taking, my pass rate increased by 10% and has not fallen as I’ve increased in students so I know it works.  

After sticky-noting for a couple of years, I started teaching an online APES class and recorded my sticky-note lectures for them.  We used the same book so I also made these videos available for kids who were absent from my regular classes.  The kids loved that they had the ability to watch the lecture and sticky-note at home. Some kids actually did all their notes at homes and then sat and listened to it again as I did the same lecture in class so they heard it twice.  Needless to say, these kids did very well on exams and the AP® Exam.

I flipped my class in 2016/2017 and used videos of the sticky-note lectures. You can read more about how I flipped here.

Sample Sticky note lecture