Many teachers in SFUSD have long been using math and language arts journals in their classrooms and have come to appreciate their value in enhancing student learning in these subjects. The journal serves as a place for the student to solve problems, practice what they have learned, take notes, develop and collect ideas, record experiences, test new ways of thinking… just to name a few. Teachers love them because it is a formative assessment tool, a record that provides evidence of student learning, and a place to provide feedback. Journals, or notebooks as we call them in science, have proven to be invaluable in helping students learn, and they look like they are here to stay.
Science notebooks are gaining popularity in recent years, in fact, so much so that the term “notebooking” has been coined as science notebooks take up residence inside a growing number of students’ desks. You may wonder: Why is this the case, and why now?
The advent of new standards, CCSS in English Language Arts and Math, and NGSS in Science require changes in the way teachers teach and students learn. The science notebook fits snugly into a niche created by the rollout of the new standards. Teachers are expected to increase instructional rigor to meet new standards and to prepare students for the new assessments. The demands of proficiency in reading and understanding complex informational text and writing in the argumentative genre fall squarely on the shoulders of all teachers, including teachers of science. Shared literacy development means shared responsibility for all teachers. The complexity of the teaching enterprise can now seem overwhelming at times, but the science notebook is a versatile tool that can help make integrated teaching and learning possible.
Imagine you walk into a science classroom. Students are busily engaged in investigating environmental preferences of sowbugs and beetles. In their science notebook, a focus question guides their investigation: Do sowbugs prefer to be in dry, moist, or wet soil? An observant student writes a prediction statement in her notebook: "I predict the sowbugs will be mostly found in the moist pile of soil. This is because I saw a lot of sowbugs under a rock in the corner of my yard and the soil there was dark and moist."
As the investigation continues, students prepare a data table to record their observations: after 10 minutes, after 30 minutes, after 2 hours along a vertical column; dry, moist, wet soil along a row at the top of the table. Following a lively discussion to make sense of the results, the students busy themselves with writing a claim and evidence statement, followed by a conclusion that attempts to answer the focus question. Throughout this investigation process that mimics what real-world scientists do, the students and teacher fluidly interacted with materials and information, using the notebook to help them ask questions, plan the investigation, record observations, and collect data. Beyond being just a place to record information, the science notebook provides the space for students to develop their scientific thinking skills: to analyze the data collected, to make claims backed by evidence from the investigation, to construct explanations to answer the focus question and to show and hone their reasoning skills. The classroom is abuzz with science learning: young scientists toggling the tasks of discussing, thinking, and writing about their investigation results. A simple tool, the science notebook is the accountability element that gently nudges students to think harder, talk deeper, and record their thoughts with clarity.
Apart from writing science investigation reports, the science notebook is also a place to take notes from science readings, write a field trip journal, keep a science glossary, do a math extension activity, write a science report, sketch some nature observations, or keep photos for projects. The versatility of the science notebook as a tool for learning is limited only by our imagination.
I hope by now you are convinced that science notebooking is well worth a try. Whether you are a new teacher just getting started in teaching science, or a veteran teacher with lots of science teaching experience, the science notebook is definitely a useful tool that will transform your science classroom and increase instructional effectiveness, not only in science, but conveniently, also in language arts and math as well.
- Writing in Science: How to Scaffold Instruction and Support Learning, by Betsy Rupp Fulwiler
- Science Notebooks: Writing about Inquiry by Lori Fulton & Brian Campbell
- Writing in Science In Action by Betsy Rupp Fulwiler
- Science Notebooks in K12 Classrooms: a website full of examples, resources, and tips
- How to Use an Interactive Science Notebook: a video by a MS teacher explaining what interactive notebook is and why she uses it to her students and parents at the beginning of the year
- Science Notebooking & Foldables Pinterest Board: use Pinterest to see examples of science notebooks; this one belongs to the Einstein Project