Science Notebooks: A Reflection of Progress

Author: D’Anna Pynes, Elementary Science Specialist

 

It is that time of year again: new school supplies and a fresh start.  Students and parents may come to you wondering how they are going to use those school supplies and excited to fill those pages.  Before your students begin writing in their science notebooks, today may be a good day to reflect on how those notebooks will be best utilized, not only as a place to record data and understandings, but as a record of student progress of scientific skills throughout the year.

If you have utilized science notebooks in your class over the years, how would you rate yourself in terms of implementation?  What will you continue and what do you plan to do differently this year?  How will you take your entries to the next level as you continue to improve in your implementation and raise expectations?

We often review student entries to look at student mastery of a scientific concept.  We may even reflect on how student thinking has changed from the beginning of the concept to assessment time.  And while topics change throughout the year and we may ask the students to go back through their notebook to think about what all they have learned or prepare for those summative evaluations, how often do we ask them to reflect on how the skills they have used from the first day in class to the last have changed over the year?

Scientific Investigation and Reasoning Standards

 

The Scientific Investigation and Reasoning standards found at the beginning of your TEKS should be embedded in your teaching practices throughout the academic year.  These are the skills scientists use to develop understandings of scientific concepts, and should be how your students record information they learn throughout the year.

Safe Practices and Equipment. We usually teach students safe and responsible practices in the lab at the beginning of the year.  Students may record how they will stay safe in the lab and glue in a safety contract after the Table of Contents in order to reference safety procedures later in the year.  As teachers we ensure our students are following safe practices before and during investigations, but how often do we go back and ask students to reflect on safe practices in their notebook?  At the beginning of a lab, we could ask students to record what safety equipment they will be using for a particular investigation and if there are any special procedures to follow.  If we do this over the year, students will have a record of the different safety equipment they have learned to use over the year and when it is appropriate to use certain equipment, such as aprons, protective eyewear or gloves. 

Scientific Method and Equipment. When we complete classroom investigations, our notebook entries usually fit into this category.  We ask students to record questions and procedures, record observations and communicate conclusions.  When recorded in one place over the year, this becomes a portfolio of how the student has progressed in these skills over the year.  If you ask students to write their own questions, how has their level of questioning changed?  How much detail has been added to their observations? What vocabulary are they using?  To what depth are they communicating their understandings and conclusions?  Do they make connections to previous investigations? 

Additionally, over the year we give our students different strategies for recording observations and collecting data.  As students become more proficient, we may ask the student to identify the best way to record information from their investigation.  If different graphic organizers have been used, students may begin connecting certain representations to different types of data.

As with safety equipment, we should also ask our students to record what types of tools or models they used to complete their investigations.  Again, over time, this will serve as a record for students to associate equipment with different types of investigations or concepts.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving:

Asking students to reflect on not only their findings, but also on past and current scientific research and findings is essential to the classroom.  As teachers, we should stay up-to-date on current events related to our content so we can teach our students how to find current information and analyze others’ explanations at their level of understanding.  As content fits naturally into our teaching, we must allow our students time to consider differing opinions (past and present) and evaluate explanations to the best of their ability using website or newspaper articles, clips from news reports, marketing material or journal articles.  Of course, you must always comply with your school or district policies regarding student internet use and social media policies.

In addition to critiquing scientific explanations, students should also learn about the contributions different scientists have made in their field of study and careers students could pursue.  The student science notebook can be a great place for students to keep notes of important people and their contributions.  The Social Studies TEKS related to your grade or a team member who teaches social studies is a great place to begin when looking for influential people in the area of science.

Planning Your Year

 

The beginning of the year is a great place to consider your professional and classroom goals.  It is a chance for us to improve and refine approaches from the previous year, but we do not have to improve and refine everything at once! What practices will you continue? What will you add?  Document in your weekly plans what process skill(s) your students will use in their notebook, identify a highlighted skill as an objective for your students and give yourself a reward each time you meet your goal.

Planning with the Process Skills in Mind

For help with planning purposeful integration into your daily lesson plans, please visit our free online course Integrating Process Skills with Content Standards in Science (Workshop # FA1224556 for elementary teachers and FA1223557 for secondary teachers).  These modules are designed for you to complete in a collaborative setting and will give you and your team tools to help focus planning sessions and find natural points of integration where process and content standards meet.

If you have never set up a science notebook for your classroom or you are looking for tips on how to get started, check out our online course Utilizing Science Notebooks: The Basics, Workshop # FA1224472.  Here, you will receive directions on how to organize notebooks and ideas to help you determine notebook entries.

Access any of these courses through ESC Region XIII’s E-Campus.

 

 

Suggested Resources

B. Campbell & L. Fulton, Science Notebooks: Writing about Inquiry.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.

FOSS (n.d.).  Science Notebooks in Middle School.  The Regents of the University of California, http://www.fossweb.com/modulesMS/pdfs/MS_Science_Notebook_Folio.pdf.  Accessed August 15, 2012.

B. R. Fulwiler, Writing in Science: How to Scaffold Instruction to Support Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007).

J. Gilbert, & M. Kotelman, (2005).  Five good reasons to use science notebooks: Key understandings about science notebooks maximize learning for all students, http://ebecri.org/files/media/5%20Good%20Reasons%20to%20Use%20Notebooks.pdf

M. P. Klentschy, “Science Notebook Essentials: A Guide to Effective Notebook Components,” Science and Children.  43(3) (2005), 24-27, http://ebecri.org/files/media/Science%20Notebook%20Essentials%20by%20Klentschy.pdf.

K. Maracarelli, Teaching science with interactive notebooks.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010.

L. Norton-Meier, B. Hand, L. Hockenberry, & K. Wise.  Questions, Claims, and Evidence: The Important Place of Argument in Children’s Science Writing.  Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association, 2008.

Science Notebooks in K12 Classrooms, http://www.sciencenotebooks.org/

 


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