The Basics of Using Science Notebooks in Your Classes

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SWBAT: Appropriately set-up their science notebooks

Big Idea

Science notebooks are a powerful tool that you can use in your classes to create a more student-centered learning atmosphere. Get rid of the worksheets and let your students create the tables, models and notes on their own!

About This Unit

Inquiry was a dirty word in the science teaching community since it was mentioned in the National Science Teaching Standards back in 1996 in so much that it was removed from later editions of the standards when teachers were getting caught in semantics--i.e. the meaning of the word “inquiry”--which led to many misguided, albeit well-intended, teaching and learning outcomes. ‘Cookie-cutter’ lessons that promoted inquiry became common and celebrated but later shunned for their tendencies to steer students to predetermined learning outcomes.Luckily, the NGSS now lays out 8 Science and Engineering Practices that alleviate the ambiguity surrounding inquiry and specifically address what students should be able to do when they graduate grade 12. Our job as educators is to authentically create and facilitate learning opportunities for our students that seamlessly weave the 3 dimensions of NGSS into our everyday teaching practices.

In this unit I set out to introduce grade 6 students to the nature of science and the skills and thought processes that go into establishing scientifically literate citizens. I will not be teaching the scientific method as dogma--another issue that has been debated for years--but, instead, will create opportunities for my students to develop an understanding of the nature of science. My focus in each activity will not be to focus on any specific content area or standard, rather I will focus on developing learning opportunities that incorporate several NGSS practices for my students to develop. My students will then reflect on their experiences, helping to tie in the ELA Common Core Standards, which will allow them to form a connection to the nature of science. The intended result will be more scientifically literate students who will be prepared to apply these practices in future learning endeavors, as we begin our journey learning science through the NGSS framework.

Setting Up the Notebook

10 minutes

Today, I introduce Science Notebooks to my classes. Students will hear about expectations, but the primary goal for today is task-based - to physically set up the notebook. I've found that by going through the set-up, I can help students contextualize the meaning of the expectations.

I recently began using science notebooks and can honestly say that with their implementation my view of my role as a teacher has changed.  I actually find myself using more writing prompts and visual thinking routines, as opposed to worksheets, to assess student learning and growth.  To me, these teaching approaches are at the core of what the NGSS is all about--student-centered learning that is facilitated through intentional structured interactions by the educator.  In other words, give students the structure to interact and allow them to predict, present their present ideas, plan investigations or ask questions, collect data and then reflect on their previous thoughts based on evidence.  

Just as scientists have their individual preferences for how to enter data into notebooks, I allow my students to enter information how they want.  Here is an example of students entering information:

In the next section, I break down the set-up steps, as well as the purpose and meaning of the notebook, and each of its sections.


30 minutes

The video describes, in detail, the complete process of teaching the purpose and meaning of the science journal, as well as detailed instructions on how to walk students through each step in the set up. Those steps are also summarized below.

Setting up a notebook with your students:

Every student will need at least 2 composition books for the year.  All papers, such as handouts, will get stapled into the composition book.

Part one: Table of Contents

Like all good resources, a table of contents gives order to chaos and helps us find items that we need.  The first 2 full pages of our science notebooks are designated for a table of contents.  The students spend time setting this up by making 4 columns: page #s, date, lesson objective(s) and assignments/important notes.  I model setting up the table of contents and then circulate around the room to check student progress.

Part two: Starting on the first page after the table of contents, students begin numbering their pages from 1-100.  That gives them a good start and will help keep them organized when they have to enter page numbers into their table of contents.

Part 3: Students are decorate their science notebooks as they see fit.  All marbled notebooks look the same, so let them be creative while helping to make identification of individual notebooks easier.