Teachers often have questions about interactive science notebooks, especially at the secondary level. Mary Morgan, a high school science teacher from Belton High School in Belton, Texas, shares her experiences (These ideas refer to traditional formats. Ms Morgan will share her thoughts on electronic notebooks in a future blog.)
Ms. Mentor: How are interactive science notebooks different from the traditional idea of notebooks as a collection of handouts, lab reports, and notes copied from the board and organized in a way determined by the teacher?
Ms. Morgan: The “interactivity” of interactive notebooks comes from the fact that students are working with the information in various ways as they fill in the notebook. Usually this starts with taking Cornell notes on a topic on the right side, whether during a direct teach session, from a video or the textbook, or during a web-quest. Then the students use the left side of the notebook to process the information from the notes. Working with, and often times, struggling with, the new information is a crucial piece for learning. The processing leads students to take ownership of the information. The processing methods vary, but processing always require the students to interact with the new information in some form leading to understanding and owning the information.
Ms. Mentor: Are interactive notebooks appropriate for high school? How do students respond to them?
Ms. Morgan: I have used INBs (Interactive Notebooks) for the last eight of the nine years I’ve been teaching. I have used them for inclusion (low level learners), on-level, and pre-AP Biology; on-level and Honors Anatomy; and physiology; zoology; and AP Biology. My students complain at first every year, but by the time the end-of-course (EOC) exams roll around in May, they thank me for doing the notebooks because they are organized and easy to study!
Ms. Mentor: Do you get any feedback from parents?
Ms. Morgan: The feedback from parents is usually similar to students at first. They usually have some trepidation as this is new for many parents as well. Some will ask why we are doing a middle school notebook or how we are covering all the information in a small space. Some parents also have concerns about how we grade the notebook. However, once I sit with the parents in a one-on-one conference, show them completed notebooks from prior years, explain how the notebook organizes the information and helps students study for unit tests, and creates an EOC review guide throughout the year, most parents are on-board with the INBs. By the end of the year, the parents I speak with comment about how great the INBs are and they wish other teachers would do them as well. I am planning a parent/guardian/trusted adult check-off sheet to encourage parents and guardians to be more hands on with their students’ work and study habits.
Ms. Mentor: Teachers have different ideas about the format of the notebook: composition books, spiral books, binders, pocket folders. Is there a “best” format to use?
Ms. Morgan: I use composition notebooks. They are a little pricier than spirals, but they hold together all year long and the pages being harder to remove. I make it quite clear to the students that no pages are to be ripped out ever! (I offer notebook paper to those who need it if someone at home is tempted to tear a page out. This has been an issue with some students in the past.) For students who can’t afford a notebook, I will quietly give them one I purchased. Continue reading …