Setting Up Interactive Science Notebooks

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Students will set up interactive science notebooks to help them gather information through their science learning. Students will learn to record information in a manner consistent with practitioners in the STEM career fields.

Big Idea

Setting up a system of record-keeping to show the progression of learning.


15 minutes

Interactive science notebooks can be very powerful learning tools if used consistently and set up well at the beginning of the year. I like to make my interactive science and social studies notebooks using a composition notebook. I make the front half of the notebook the science side and then flip the notebook over and make the back half my social studies notebook.

I use composition notebooks as it does not allow students to pull out pages. It is important for students to know that real scientists make mistakes sometimes and they just move on. Using a composition notebook requires that students retain all their work, including the rough work of learning as well as final products. Interactive Science Notebooks also provide students with a learning log. It is fun to look back at the year and see how students have grown in their scientific skills such as note-taking, diagram-drawing, etc. I find that these are the notebooks that my students keep and mention when they come and visit me years later. 

Call students to the gathering area to introduce notebook set up. Tell students that real scientists use notebooks to keep track of their work and explorations and that the skills they will learn this year, making notebooks, are real-life skills that will be necessary for any kind of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) career they might pursue. Real scientists make mistakes and correct them right on the page. They add side notes and draw diagrams and charts right along with their notes. They NEVER tear out pages, because their mistakes may offer them information later on.  Tell students that they will also be following these rules as they build their notebooks.

Share some examples of real-life scientists notebooks. Examples are compiled into a PowerPoint for you.

Guided Practice

20 minutes

I allow a good deal of time for students to make their front covers using pictures from magazines. They choose “sciencey” pictures for the science notebook side and social studies pictures for the other side. Before we begin to make the covers, we have a class discussion about the themes we learn in both science and social studies.

Some themes explored in Science:

  • Energy
  • Systems
  • Structures
  • Change over time
  • Cycles

Some branches of science:

  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Entomology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry

There are many more, but these will get the discussion going. 

Themes in Social Studies:

  • Culture
  • Time, community, change
  • People and places
  • Individual development and identity
  • Individuals, groups, institutions
  • Power, government
  • Civics
  • Global connections

Have students brainstorm and write their answers on chart paper. This provides students with an anchor chart when looking for pictures and deciding which cover to place them on. I use this as a formative assessment of students’ understanding of what science is. Sometimes they have difficulty distinguishing between the two. I often have students trying to put a globe or map in the science side and a snake on the social studies side. While these items may not be mutually exclusive between the content areas, some pictures fit better on a particular cover. The questions students ask you about where to put pictures also provides a good idea of overall understanding of the disciplines.

Individual Practice

20 minutes

Setting up your interactive science notebook takes time, but it is worth the effort. I try to do it after the first lesson so students have pages to log into their table of contents. It helps to frame the instructions for students. Before set up, I paperclip the first 6 pages together so that we can come back and set up the notebook later.

Watch the iMovie I put together to give students an overview of what the set up of the notebook entails.

The first 6 pages of the notebook should be left aside for the table of contents. I have students use the headings



Page Number

on each of the first six pages.

Students start numbering their notebooks on page 7 with page number 1. Have students number only the first 10 pages for now.

On page 1, have students design a cover page for the first unit. This is also better done after the introduction lesson so that students have an idea of what to draw for their cover page.

Page 2 should have the Science Observation sheet from the first lesson in the unit. There are two different ways to have students deal with glued in sheets. The first way is to copy sheets full-size and have students trim or fold and glue them in. The second way is to copy sheets at 70% of the original size. This makes them small enough to fit onto the composition notebook page.

Always have students glue sheets into their books with liquid glue. Stick glue dries out too quickly and pages will begin to fall out before long. Teach students to use tiny glue dots at the corners of their pages and in from the edges about ¼ inch. That way, glue will spread, but not overflow the edge of the page. Less is more with glue in this instance!

Once students’ interactive science notebook covers are completed enlist the help of a parent volunteer to laminate the covers using strips of wide, packaging tape. This is easier to use than contact paper and provides a glossy finish to the covers of the book. Just lay strips of the tape across the cover, slightly overlapping and fold over the edges to prevent fraying. Voila, students have a keepsake science and social studies notebook to cherish.

How It All Works

5 minutes

I have students use a double entry notebook system. This allows them to record information they learn along-side their own reflections on what they learn. Hand students the outline for their notebook and go through it together. The way I tell students to remember it is: The LEFT side is for LEARNING. It belongs to me! I decide what goes there. The RIGHT side is for REFLECTION. It belongs to them! They choose how to reflect on the information they learned. They can draw a picture, write a poem, write a summary, make a venn diagram, etc. Sometimes, I will give students a choice of products to use to reflect, but often, I leave it up to them. When students are given choices for their own reflections, it is interesting to see what they choose. You can gain great insight into how students choose to process information.

Have students practice a reflection based on the observations they made in lesson one. Remember, reflections go on the right hand side or odd pages in the notebook.