Science notebooks

For many teachers, the word “notebook” conjures up an image of a folder or binder in which students attach lab reports, homework, class handouts and notes, tests and quizzes, and/or completed worksheets. The students are given a list of required documents and the required order in which they should appear in the notebook. The notebooks are graded periodically on how complete they are and on whether the documents are in the required order. Teachers would tell the students to “study” from them. At the end of the school year, some students would take them home; others would casually discard them as they cleaned out their desks or lockers.

However, there’s a lot of talk about going beyond these simple organizational strategies for archives or document repositories to helping students create a more useful and personalized notebook, one that won’t be tossed away at the end of the year. These approaches recognize the importance of helping students become better at recording and analyzing data and at using writing to reflect on and communicate what they are learning.

There are many teacher websites that list the required elements for class notebooks (just Google “science notebook” for some examples). But here are some ideas that you can use to revise your class notebook activity:

  • I’d start with looking at the NSTA publication Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classroomby Michael Klentschy. Don’t be put off by the title if you’re a secondary teacher. The concepts are the same, and the strategies would be useful if your students are not used to organizing their thoughts and notes for themselves. There are many examples of students work, and I was blown away by what these little ones are doing and thinking! You can even read a sample chapter online.
  • Science Notebooks in K-12 Classrooms produced by the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership in Washington state is a an excellent resource, with lots of examples of student work, templates, and documents – including many in Spanish.
  • Using Science Notebooks K-8 is a teacher resource provided by the Tucson Unified School District with suggestions for using notebooks, their benefits and advantages, and LOTS of examples of student work.
  • If you’re an NSTA member, you can download several articles for FREE from NSTA’s Science Store including Science Notebook Essentials by Michael Klentschy.
  • The Scientist’s Notebook Toolkit from the East Bay Collaborative in Rhode Island is another resource that is rich in suggestions and examples.
  • The Interactive Notebook Tutorial was designed by a California teacher to acquaint her students with creating and using notebooks. But teachers can learn, too.
  • The ERIC Digest, Science Notebooks: Tools For Increasing Achievement Across the Curriculum, provides a rationale for using science notebooks and discusses their effect on learning.

One thing that I like about many of these books, articles, and online resources is their inclusion of lots of examples of students work. Secondary teachers will be amazed at the depth of knowledge expressed by younger students! And I’m sure we’ll think: If these students can do it, so can mine! But I suspect that these students did not catch on to a new approach to notebooks right away, especially if they have had many years of explicit directions on exactly what papers and information to put in a notebook. Their teachers had to provide lots of modeling, feedback, and persistence to get to the point where the notebook is an integral part of their science classes. But any teacher I’ve talked to about these notebooks says that it is worth the effort.

Of course, if students don’t see a useful purpose for their notebooks, the notebooks become just another item to carry around. By following up on activities, revisiting past assignments or notes, and using the notebooks during projects or open-ended assessments, students can see the value of having a notebook.

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One Comment

  1. Beth Baker
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    many of the links on this page do not work

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