Science notebooks

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Several years ago at an NSTA conference, I attended several sessions on science notebooks. I always required my students to keep (and use) a science notebook, but these sessions had some different extensions and variations that made me an even bigger fan. So I was really interested to see an entire issue devoted to this learning strategy. As a secondary teacher, when I read the articles, I visualized how the ideas could apply to older students.
The current thinking on notebooks is that they are more than a collection of handouts and notes copied from the board and organized in a way determined by the teacher. Notebooks are less about organizing “stuff” and more about organizing thoughts, writing about what the student is learning rather than what the student was told to do.
In Making Meaning with Notebooks, Michael Klentschy (the author of Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms and Using Science Notebooks in Middle School) describes a notebook as … the student’s personal record that can be referred to and updated throughout an investigation or even an entire unit of study. Whether for scientists or students, a science notebook records what was observed or done and what the scientists or students thought as a result of the experience.

Throughout these articles, scaffolding seems to be a theme. For example, A Menu of Options has suggestions for starting notebooks with primary students. I suspect that at the beginning of middle school and then again in high school, teachers would also have to model the process and guide students to help them progress to more advanced thinking and strategies.  (Note: Check SciLinks for additional content resources on Butterflies (K–4 and 5–8) and metamorphosis.)
Nonfiction Literacy in Kindergarten shows how to incorporate nonfiction features such as a table of contents, a labeled diagram, a text box, or a graph in student notebooks to reinforce concepts from reading instruction. There are examples of how the teacher used the notebooks as a formative assessment. Reuse That Notebook describes how teachers in grades 3–6 designed a process for the same notebook to be used throughout the grades. They shared the assessment rubric they developed as a team, and I was impressed that “neatness” and “following directions” (although important) are not included in this science rubric (but they do appear in the self-assessment rubric). Using the same notebook in the following years—what a great record of learning!
Reading Graphically Enhanced Science Notebooks brought back some memories. During a test, a student came to me and asked if instead of writing a description of how cepahalopods move, could he draw a picture? His diagram showed that he understood the concept, as opposed to just memorizing the words “jet propulsion.” This article has several student examples – not just labeled diagrams or tables of numbers but student-generated explanations of processes or events in a graphic format.  The examples are related to magnets. How do oil and gas companies know where to drill? also has some examples of graphics, with illustrations of sending shock waves beneath the Earth’s surface and recording the resulting reflections.
All inquiry starts with a question, but to generate a question a student must have some prior knowledge about the subject. A Laboratory of Words shows how adding a “quick write” to notebooks can help the students to express their prior knowledge (or misconceptions). The article describes how to model the quick write (often used as a bell-ringer). Based on the other artidles, I’m thinking that “quick draws” could also be used.
Learning English–Learning Science adds a family component to the process, using resources form the  Lawrence Hall of Science’s Mateo y Cientina, and  looks at student writing as a way to assess English learning as well as science. In Nature Detectives, students do ongoing observations in the schoolyard or neighborhood and create a field guide. Take a look at Making Tracks Trail Guide, a do-it-yourself project.
SciLinks has resources that could supplement the content in several of this issue’s articles. Documenting Learning has activities for younger students on Properties of Sand, Salt, and Water  related to solubility, and Does It Have a Life Cycle describes an assessment probe that could help the teacher discover conceptions and misconceptions that students have on the topic of life cycles.
Interactive Reflective Logs illustrates getting and providing feedback via the notebook (with sample pages) as students and teachers act as reflective partners. The article models how to give and respond to feedback.
Some addition resources on science notebooks include

NSTA Journals have published many articles related to science notebooks. Click here for a collection of articles and free book chapters that I assembled using the NSTA Learning Center’s My Resource Center tool.

Seasons Change lists many useful websites. I was reading the PDF version of the article, and when I clicked on the URLs I did not get the sites. Aha—the article is formatted into three narrow columns, and the URLs wrap around to the next line. So here are the sites mentioned in the article:

And check out the Connections for this issue. Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, there are ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, and other resources.

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3 Responses to Science notebooks

  1. Liz Heinecke says:

    Even young kids can make science notebooks. Here’s my post on helping your kids start a science notebook:

  2. Tom says:

    You are sharing so much good info on this blog, but I will never be tired to comment;-). I just hope you will dedicate one part to the economical situation in the world as well?

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